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Swansea county council set to renew lease with current airport operator despite complaints

SWANSEA Airport looks likely to be leased to its current operator, despite complaints about the way it has been run over the years.

The airport is owned by Swansea Council and managed by Swansea Airport Ltd, which has served a notice requesting a new tenancy. The council has to respond by February 3, and cabinet will meet next week to chart a new course.

Two other groups want to run the airport, at Fairwood Common, Gower, but a report before cabinet has recommended sticking with Swansea Airport Ltd – which took over the lease from a predecessor around 20 years ago – while ensuring it continued to invest in the facility.

The council doesn’t want to operate the airport itself because of the cost and also the “significant” carbon emissions involved. The authority is aiming to be “net zero” in carbon emissions by 2030.

The cabinet report said the airport “has always been the subject of complaints and expressions of dissatisfaction” in relation to its management.

“Issues in connection with lack of aviation fuel, general management, staffing levels etc have all been raised over the years since the lease was first granted,” it said.

The council has tried to help improve relationships at the airport, it added, but only had the ability to influence a very limited number of operational matters.

The report said it was “reassuring” to know there was interest from other groups, but this should not be taken into account when considering a lease renewal for legal reasons.

It added that the operator had the right to renew the lease on the basis they complied with it, and that a consultation with other stakeholders was not required.

The airport’s licence had been suspended by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – a key condition of the lease – for around two years before being reinstated in 2021.

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Three options are set out in the report for cabinet members to consider at a meeting on January 19.

The recommendations are not to oppose the lease renewal request from Swansea Airport Ltd and to delegate authority to senior council officers to agree appropriate terms while ensuring further investment was put in.

An impact assessment carried out as part of the report said the recommendations created a “medium” potential risk in terms of socio-economic, environmental, legal, political and public perception matters, among others.

The cabinet report includes an audit of the airport in September 2022 by the CAA, which identified five “findings” which had to be addressed by the end of December. Swansea Airport Ltd has told the council it has resolved them.

The airport dates from the Second World War and has been used by private aircraft pilots, flying schools, air cadets, sky-diving operators and Wales Air Ambulance over the years.

A group called Swansea Airport Stakeholders Alliance, representing users of the facility, wants to run it as a not-for-profit venture for the wider benefit of the county.

Businessman Jim Blyth, who leases aircraft at the airport, has proposed running it on a commercial basis.

An aviation industry group called the General Aviation Awareness Council said it was concerned about a reduction in use of Swansea Airport and called on the council to award a lease to a new operator.

Speaking earlier this month, the director of Swansea Airport Ltd, Roy Thomas, said he had invested a lot of money into the airport, that he would reopen the cafe – which has been closed for years – by the end of March, that management changes had been carried out, and that he was working on proposals which could result in scheduled passenger flights.

Some of the airport discussion will be in public at next week’s meeting, but it is likely that cabinet’s decision will be taken behind closed doors.