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Saturday, January 03, 2015

Excuses running out for the Labour-Plaid Cymru airline

The many reasons given by Welsh Ministers as to why they have been using taxpayers money to subsidise each of the 65,073 passengers on the government's air service between Cardiff and Anglesey between 2007 and 2013 to the tune of £86 a head have finally run out of steam.

This subsidy is wasteful and encourages pollution. According to aviation expert Clive Sedgebeer however, even the strategic reasons do not stand up to scrutiny.

He told the Western Mail that the claim by the former Economic Minister and Plaid Cymru leader,  Ieuan Wyn Jones that there “isn’t a single European country” without an internal air link is 'well wide of the mark':

Mr Sedgebeer said many European countries don’t have internal air links including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Malta, Cyprus, Belgium and Luxembourg.

In an interview with WalesOnline on New Year’s Eve Mr Wyn Jones also claimed the north-south Wales service was “well-used” among families, businesspeople and tourism operators.

He made his comments following a year of damning criticism of the service after it was revealed in March subsidies stood at £184 for each passenger between 2012 and 2013.

And the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee revealed in July it had “significant concerns” over the Anglesey to Vale of Glamorgan air service because passenger numbers have plunged by around 43% since 2008-09.

Mr Sedgebeer, from the Vale of Glamorgan, said if the service was a boon for the tourism industry it would operate on weekends rather than just twice daily weekday returns between RAF Valley and Cardiff Airport.

He said: “Anybody that’s been in the industry knows that the most popular days to fly anywhere are a Saturday and Sunday. If it’s to help tourism why pick Valley as the airport because it’s not open on a Saturday and Sunday.”

The service was dubbed “Ieuan Air” by the Tories in 2008, who claimed the former politician was its chief beneficiary as north Wales’ only cabinet member.

Mr Sedgebeer believes Hawarden Airport, in Flintshire, would have been a better choice in north Wales than Valley as it is open on weekends.

He maintains Valley was picked to suit Mr Wyn Jones’ needs as a former Anglesey AM.
In November Welsh Government Transport Minister Edwina Hart announced LinksAir will continue to operate on the route until December 2018.

Under this contract the flights from Cardiff will initially be at 7.40am and 4.25pm Monday to Thursday but at 3.25pm on Fridays.

Mr Sedgebeer, 67, said the earlier Friday afternoon departure shows the service is designed for AMs hoping to return home early for the weekend rather than tourists.

The Public Accounts Committee was told planes on the service run largely half-empty. The 19-seater BAe Jetstream 31 plane operated by LinksAir has an average “load” of less than half, at around 46% to 47%.

Yet another example of money wasted by the Welsh Government.
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