An aviation consultant has joined a group which believes the attempt to turn Manston airport into a cargo hub is seriously flawed.

Government minsters recently overruled the planning inspectorate’s recommendation to reject RiverOak Strategic Partners’ (RSP) scheme, which includes spending  £300m on rebuilding, with operations to start in the first quarter of 2023.

But consultant Peter Forbes, director of Alan Stratford & Associates, believes RSP sees the only real value in the land as housing or industrial development.

Mr Forbes explained: “In order to fulfil the [government] requirements, RSP needed to show that the airport was a significant national infrastructure development with a minimum of 10,000 ATMs a year. Under RSP’s forecasts, Manston would handle some 181,436 tonnes of cargo, with 10,144 cargo ATMs, by year six.”

The government limited the ATMs to just over 17,000 – or some 40-odd flights a day. As a point of contrast, East Midlands, the busiest UK cargo airport and express operator hub, sees, on estimate, fewer than 12 freighter flights a day – and handles nearly double the cargo RSP estimates for Manston by 2029.

RSP told the government the airport would lead to the creation of more than 23,000 jobs – both direct and indirect, with 3,417 at the airport – in contrast to the 150 jobs it had when it closed in 2013 with losses reported to be at some £3m a year.

Mr Forbes also questioned its location.

“The key disadvantage of Manston is its location at the extreme south-east corner of the UK and its poor surface access. Historic traffic levels at the airport have generally been modest.

“The increased onward distribution times at Manston are particularly relevant for perishable goods, which comprise a significant proportion of all dedicated freighter cargo. In addition, the inability to offer night flights at the airport, which is a condition …, will be a significant constraint for the development of a freight hub, particularly for main international freight package couriers such as Fedex, UPS and DHL.”

He added: “There is significant available capacity to handle additional freight at East Midlands and Stansted for at least the next 15-20 years. If further capacity for dedicated freighters is needed in the longer-term, then it would be preferable to have a more central location.”

The consultant also queries RSP’s funding source, which it has not revealed, and questioned the experience of the management.

RSP is a US company, with a UK director, who, Mr Forbes claimed, is a close associate of two local Conservative MPs, and who “has also been involved with other airport developments in Germany …none of these have proved to be successful”.

Mr Forbes concluded: “The location of any airport is fundamental and the development of a major cargo hub at Manston as proposed is simply not commercially viable. There is little doubt in my mind that RSP’s objective in promoting the Manston development is to sell some or all of the land for housing and/or industrial development.”

Two other aviation consultants, York Aviation and AviaSolutions, have also said the airport is not viable, he claimed.

You can read Mr Forbes’ article here.

Comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.
  • Ian Scott

    July 29, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    Perhaps you might want to look into Craig MacKinlay’s previous business relationship with Tony Fraudman and his airline company MaMa airlines that is still listed as active at companies house.

    • Steve

      July 30, 2020 at 5:44 am

      Absolutely, not to mention others deeply invested in this at government and local council level. This is not sustainable.

  • Steve

    July 30, 2020 at 5:42 am

    this is what every government or independent report has written, that in plain short bottom line terms it is not substantial as a business or environmentaly.

    This cannot be allowed to be a government vanity project, with its scatter gun approach to look at what we’re doing with no foundation of credible explanation or viability or chance of long term success.

  • Dr. Beau Webber

    July 30, 2020 at 7:48 am

    The writer of this article seems to not have read the DCO document, which specifically limits the use of Manston Airport for Aviation only.
    He also seems to be ignorant of both the terms of the agreement under which RSP purchased the airport for £16.5 Million, which prevents them from using it for housing, and seems to be ignorant of the the recent Local Plan which continues the 100 year history of Manston Airport only being for Aviation.

    • Alex Lennane

      July 30, 2020 at 9:11 am

      Please note this part of the consultant’s document: There is a part of the airport site, known as the ‘Northern Grass’, which has long been muted as a potential area that could be sold off – although RSP claim that it would be used for the airport’s development. It is interesting that the Planning Inspectorate took a different view on whether this was needed. It should be noted that approval of the DCO does not prevent RSP selling off some or ultimately all of the land should, for any reason, the airport prove to be unprofitable or the development does not proceed at all.

      • Dr. Beau Webber

        July 30, 2020 at 9:28 am

        The DCO, Sale Agreement, and Thanet Local Plan apply to the whole of Manston Airport, including the Northern Grass, and all prevent resale for housing.

        • Laura Mackin

          July 30, 2020 at 2:17 pm

          Obviously, planning permission would be needed for housing but nothing in DCO or local plan to say that the land can’t be sold for housing!

          Also worth noting Altitude Aviation said it wasn’t viable and the only supportive “expert” said she didn’t consider viability!

  • Dr. Beau Webber

    July 30, 2020 at 9:30 am

    We ask you to consider what the Secretary of State for Transport has written :

    Paragraph 20.
    Whilst noting the ExA’s consideration of need [ER 5] and conclusion that the Applicant’s failure to demonstrate sufficient need weighs substantially against the case for development consent being given [ER 8.2.25 – 8.2.26], the Secretary of State disagrees and concludes that there is a clear case of need for the Development which existing airports (Heathrow, Stansted, EMA and others able to handle freight) would not bring about to the same extent or at all. The Secretary of State concludes that significant economic and socioeconomic benefits would flow from the Development to Thanet and East Kent as well as more widely including employment creation, education and training, leisure and tourism, benefits to general aviation and regeneration benefits.
    In addition, as a result of the Development, the potential exists for Manston Airport to develop and grow into a transport asset for the UK which would provide a number of significant benefits locally, regionally and nationally, complementary and in addition to those able to be provided by existing airports.
    These include increased capacity available in North Kent for import and export of freight by air to, from and within the UK including support for high value and time-critical transport of goods, increased connectivity to the North Kent area, benefits which flow from its location in terms of its accessibility, enhanced access to markets and to end users, the facilitating of inward investment, support for the advanced manufacturing sector in which the UK is looking to build competitive strength, and the provision of a passenger and executive airport in North Kent. The Secretary of State gives substantial weight to the above public benefits both individually and cumulatively.

    • Alex Lennane

      July 30, 2020 at 9:46 am

      Thank you. I’d be interested to know why you think it is a viable airport, and why you’d like it to reopen?

      • Dr. Beau Webbers

        July 30, 2020 at 12:48 pm

        Why would I like Manston Airport to reopen ? :
        £300 million or more Infrastructure investment into Thanet and East Kent – Thanet has never seen the likes of this before.
        Education and Training to at least Level 2, which leads on to other qualifications, with a very large number of jobs for local people at the end of the training, plus for others including previous Manston employees. Very well paid jobs with prospects, at that.
        An end to the deprivation and depression in Thanet, which results in one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
        It is not up to me or you to decide if Manston Airport is viable, it is up to RSP and their investors. These are hard-headed business men.

  • Laura Mackin

    July 30, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    Interesting that the Secretary of State doesn’t even attempt to explain what the “clear case of need” is

    “…….the Secretary of State disagrees and concludes that there is a clear case of need for the Development which existing airports (Heathrow, Stansted, EMA and others able to handle freight) would not bring about to the same extent or at all.”.

    Without need, there will be none of the claimed benefits to anyone, but a massive cloud will sit over Ramsgate for years to come.

  • Ian Scott

    July 30, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    Beau Webber, like most people who support Manston reopening as an airport, won’t have planes 500ft over his home as he lives in Canterbury. There will be night flights the DCO approval has so many loopholes that Freudmann and co will take advantage of. People forget Freudmann has form with regard to ignoring night flight bans

    • Peter Forbes

      August 01, 2020 at 11:27 am

      The DCO consent for Manston only restricts scheduled flights between 2300-0600 hours not charter. But historically, nearly all Manston’s cargo flights have been charters (as defined by the CAA) and a significant proportion of these were at night. As such, these types of flights would inevitably form the basis of any low levels of movements that might be feasible if the airport were to re-open. Of course, there may be legal challenges as to the wording of the restriction but, in my opinion, the No Night Flights lobby have every reason to be concerned.

      • Peter Forbes

        August 03, 2020 at 3:22 pm

        Further to my comment on 1st August, I should point out that there is some ambiguity between the DCO approval letter from the Secretary of State for Transport, which only restricts the operation of scheduled and not charter flights between 2300-0600 hours and the DCO itself which also qualifies the definition of a scheduled flight to include charters ! If Manston were to re-open this could be one for the lawyers !

        Irrespective of this, Manston would not be commercially viable either with or without night-time cargo charters. The main freight consolidators (eg Fedex, UPS, DHL, Amazon etc) are all established at other airports which are better located for onward distribution within the UK and have no night-time restrictions. There is no reason for them to move to Manston. Similar considerations apply to JIT freight, such as perishables. The attached link demonstrates why airports in, or with good road access to the Midlands, are better placed for the ‘Golden Triangle’ of distribution centres for the UK’s supermarkets and high street stores.