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Helvetic quits Cardiff Airport

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Page last updated: 30th Mar 2013 - 01:02 PM

The Swiss airline Helvetic recently announced that it was ceasing all of its operations at Cardiff Airport. The airline’s decision is a blow to the Welsh government, which spent half a million pounds promoting Wales as a tourist destination in Switzerland a couple of years ago.

Helvetic flights first started heading to and from Cardiff Airport in 2011, but it soon became apparent that demand was low. As a result, the airline began to stop off at Bristol Airport on the way to Switzerland, and after a while it cut Cardiff out of its winter schedule completely. The latest move will see it stop running flights from Cardiff during the summer schedule as well.

The decision presents a real challenge for the Welsh government, which is currently planning to buy Cardiff Airport from its Spanish owners, the Abertis Group. Helvetic’s cancellation of its operations at Cardiff is the latest disappointment that the airport has experienced over the last few years, falling a dramatic fall in passenger numbers. In 2007, passenger numbers at Cardiff peaked at two million, but now they have fallen to half that amount.

However, the one positive is that Helvetic is still discussing whether to restart its flights in 2014, so it could possibly continue to operate from Cardiff in the future.

If the government does buy the airport, there are talks of creating a new airport on the Severn Estuary that would replace both Cardiff and Bristol airports. The new airport, which could be as big as Gatwick and have two runways, would take a decade to complete and could see as many as 11 million passengers passing through it each year.

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Access scheme given £5m boost

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Page last updated: 14th Jun 2011 - 04:35 PM

Infrastructure around Cardiff Airport could receive a much-needed makeover in the coming months, thanks to a ‘vote of confidence’ from the European Commission (EC). The EC will allow the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) to offer the Rhoose hub a one-time 'gift' of £5m.

However, the future of the bursary is in the hands of the Welsh transport minister, Carl Sargeant, who could still subject the proposal to revision.

Cardiff Airport’s access problems became known in late 2010, when Flybe boss, Mike Rutter, said that the quality of roads and railways around the Rhoose hub was giving holidaymakers “an excuse” to travel to other airports in the region, such as Bristol.

Poor access, and indeed, the presence of better-connected rivals, is a major concern for British airports. Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster has endured inadequate local infrastructure since the first flight took off from the Yorkshire hub in 2005, while Stansted Airport has witnessed the defection of several airlines to better-connected airport, Gatwick. Belfast International in Ireland has lost business to rival, Belfast City, due to the latter’s proximity to the centre of Belfast.

Ieuan Wyn Jones, Deputy First Minister of the WAG, applied for funding for Cardiff’s access project in March 2011, shortly before his responsibilities were transferred to transport minister, Carl Sargeant.

A link to the M4 motorway is imperative for Cardiff, but improved motorway access may only be part of the solution to the Welsh hub’s woes. Holidaymakers from London and the southeast must travel within ten miles of Bristol Airport to arrive at Cardiff, via the M4. Cardiff, therefore, needs a series of new, unique routes to encourage travellers to eschew the convenience of Bristol Airport, for the novelty of a flight from South Wales.

Unfortunately, as of June 13 2011, the airport’s list of beneficiaries (and inbound airlines) is somewhat lacking, and the access scheme is no closer to realisation than it was in October last year.

The WAG's £5m contribution will represent just 18% of the total £26.5m required to connect the Welsh hub to the M4 motorway. TBI-Abertis, owner of Cardiff Airport, will be expected to find the remaining £21.5m required for the completion of the access project.

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Cardiff needs "clear and coherent vision"

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Page last updated: 27th May 2011 - 02:36 PM

Cardiff Airport is facing a crisis, after budget airline, bmibaby, announced its intention to withdraw from the Vale of Glamorgan hub at the end of the 2011 summer season.

The development, while not immediately life threatening for the airport, has raised questions about Cardiff’s future prospects. Education leader, Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, of the University of Wales, noted that the Rhoose hub has a “critical role” as a driver of the local economy, but a lack of vision amongst airport bosses and local councils has allowed the nearby Bristol Airport to gain an advantage over Cardiff. “The question is, whether anyone is interested in doing anything about this situation”, the professor of enterprise explained.

Cardiff Airport’s popularity is waning: the price of parking spaces is up, and passenger numbers are down. Perhaps even worse, the Welsh hub’s ‘master plan’, a document that outlines bosses’ expectations for the future, has been written off as a failure. The airport had anticipated a high of 3.25m visitors during 2010, but poor transport links and the success of Cardiff's rivals actually prompted a slump in passengers, down to 1.5m visitors by the end of last year.

Alun Cairns, an MP in the Vale of Glamorgan, placed the blame squarely on the collective shoulders of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG). Mr. Cairns said that Cardiff Airport is operated “effectively and efficiently” by its owner, TBI Abertis. However, a lack of support from the WAG is hindering efforts to create a consortium of supporters and investors, centred on local businesses and councils. “There is an obvious need for a coordinated effort”, Mr. Cairns told the Wales Online website.

The departure of bmibaby will bring about the end of thirty flights a week from Cardiff, including routes to popular ‘sun and sea’ spots, such as Alicante, Malaga, and Palma de Mallorca.

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Cardiff criticised for fee hike

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Page last updated: 2nd Feb 2011 - 02:41 PM

Cardiff Airport’s new website, decked out in its trademark rosy red, is looking somewhat brighter than its owner’s future prospects, after officials at the Welsh hub compensated for the loss of 200,000 annual passengers by ramping up parking fees by 25%. Strangely, the fee, which Cardiff says was enforced by current owner, TBI Abertis, affects only those visitors with the foresight to book their parking space in advance.

The move has exposed an apparent rift between Cardiff Airport and its Spanish owner, with the former recommending that holidaymakers dispense with traditional advice and avoid pre-booking, if they wish to circumvent the charges imposed by Abertis. The airport has since “guaranteed” that all motorists will be accommodated, while discussions take place over the viability of the new fees.

However, loyal customers, Cardiff’s most valuable asset if it wishes to compete with the hugely successful Bristol Airport, are not happy with the airport’s “raft of new fees,” to quote news website, Wales Online. The parking charge bumps a week’s parking up to £81.50, an increase of £58.38 over February 2010. Unlucky travellers could also be hit with Cardiff’s £1 drop-off fee and a £2 trolley hire charge.

David Wallace, a Cardiff Airport regular, said that officials were in danger of "pricing themselves out of the market.”

Local ministers are concerned that Cardiff does not have enough major airlines on its books to prevent customers choosing Bristol over their local airport. Perhaps even worse, the Welsh capital may not have sufficient infrastructure to support a large carrier. Flybe boss, Mike Rutter, warned that airport access roads were not fit for purpose: “to win business from Bristol, which has a bigger capacity marketplace, (the road) has to be better.”

The unbalanced rivalry between Cardiff and Bristol mirrors that of Newcastle and Durham airports in the northeast. Durham, having lost 30% of its passengers to its rival and the recession, introduced a ‘Passenger Facility Fee’ in October 2010, forcing customers to pay £3-6 to pass through security checkpoints. The move, similar to Cardiff’s new parking charge, was universally condemned by travellers.

Gate prices at Cardiff’s car parks remain the same, though the recent VAT rise forced a “slight increase” in the price of all spaces.

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Cardiff unveils new website

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Page last updated: 27th Jan 2011 - 12:15 PM

Earlier this month, Wales’ largest international airport, Cardiff, unveiled its latest website design to the public. The new homepage, which retains its predecessor’s web address and raspberry-and-cream colour scheme, identifies visitors’ needs immediately, before directing them to the appropriate part of the site.

First-time visitors are treated to a number of options, arranged in colourful boxes, detailing a different stage in the often-tedious adventure that is booking a holiday, from ‘planning a trip’ to ‘meeting and greeting.’ Selecting one of the boxes 'leads the user' to the information most relevant to their visit.

However, at first glance, the website appears to take all visitors to the same page, regardless of their selection - a typical sunshine image surrounded by adverts and pretty pink buttons. The newly customised options are (rather unhelpfully) placed at the bottom of the page, a turn of the mouse wheel below the traditional, and far more visible, main menu.

Other new features include a customisable homepage for regular visitors, such as media types and frequent flyers, an “enhanced” booking engine, and the option to share web pages on more than 330 social networking and blogging sites. Visitors can also connect with Cardiff Airport on the hub’s Twitter page, @cardiff_airport.

“We wanted to develop a more modern website which embraces social media channels,” explained Cassie Houghton, PR manager at Cardiff Airport. Cassie noted that the Welsh hub was “greatly encouraged” by customer feedback, and hinted at further development of “mobile applications,” presumably iPhone and Android software, during 2011.

TBI Abertis, the current owner of Cardiff Airport, has also created nearly identical websites for London Luton, Belfast International, and Stockholm Skavsta airports. Cardiff's new website can be found at www.tbicardiffairport.com.

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Surf’s up for domestic flyers

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Page last updated: 26th Nov 2010 - 10:51 AM

Air Southwest, Britain’s “local airline,” to use the carrier’s slogan, is to introduce a daily flight from Cardiff Airport to the comparatively tiny hub, Newquay. The route will begin operating on January 4 2011, with a Bombardier Dash 8-311 likely to be the aeroplane of choice for the half-hour journey.

Newquay Airport, located close to the city of Truro, the largest conurbation in the ceremonial county of Cornwall, handles 450,000 passengers every year, many of whom are UK residents travelling to local attractions such as the Eden Project and Watergate Bay on the famous Cornwall coastline.

Mike Coombes, director at the airline, said that travelling to the southwest by air takes an average three hours less than the road journey, as motorists must drive around the Bristol Channel, and between the Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks, a journey of almost 200 miles.

“Cornwall is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year,” Mike said. "Newquay is a Mecca for surfing and a great resort for the whole family,” offering “beautiful beaches, wonderful walks and fine food.” The popular Fifteen Cornwall restaurant, a Jamie Oliver-branded outlet, is also in the Newquay area.

Prices for the Cardiff-Newquay route begin at £39 for standard class with an inclusive 20kg of hold luggage. Tickets bought under Air Southwest’s ‘Advantage’ scheme are charged at £115, and come bundled with an extra 10kg baggage allowance, access to executive lounges, and peace from screaming kids, who aren’t allowed into some first class suites.

Air Southwest is a major airline in the south of England, hosting 10 routes from Plymouth Airport, and 9 from Newquay. The carrier also has a sizeable base at Bristol. However, the flight from Cardiff to Newquay is the airline’s first route out of South Wales.

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Helvetic Airways to link Cardiff with Zurich

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Page last updated: 18th Nov 2010 - 12:49 PM

Just a few days after budget airline, BMIbaby, announced a new route from Cardiff to Munich in Germany, Swiss carrier, Helvetic Airways, has unveiled plans to link the Welsh hub to one of the biggest financial centres in the world, Zurich.

Beginning in March 2011, and operating four times a week, Helvetic’s new route is being marketed at business travellers. Cardiff boss, Patrick Duffy, said that Zurich is “one of the most sought-after business destinations from Wales,” and the airport is “delighted” to have Helvetic introduce the connection. Bruno Jans, Director at Helvetic, echoed Patrick’s sentiments, referring to his airline’s latest investment as “just what the market has been looking for.”

Similar to BMIbaby’s Munich route, Helvetic’s Zurich flight is the first of its kind from South Wales. The addition should help the airport compete with neighbouring Bristol International, which offers a route to the Swiss city of Geneva, but not to Zurich. Helvetic is hoping that its fellow Swiss will take advantage of the opportunity to visit Wales during summer 2011.

The country might not have the clement temperatures of the Mediterranean, but its mountainous relief, big leeks, and untamed countryside will be familiar to visitors from Alpine regions of Europe, with the possible exception of the vegetable.

Helvetic will operate a Fokker 100 on the Cardiff-Zurich route. The airliner has 100 seats, as its name suggests, and is relatively rare in world markets, given that Fokker went into bankruptcy in 1996.

The Swiss airline will begin selling tickets (priced at £99, taxes included) for Zurich on November 15 2010. However, the price is described as a “limited offer” on the Cardiff Airport website.

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Munich markets from South Wales

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Page last updated: 12th Nov 2010 - 01:16 PM

Budget airline, BMIbaby, has added a new route between Cardiff Airport and Franz Josef Strauss Airport in Munich, Germany. The connection, the carrier says, is in celebration of eight years of BMIbaby flights from South Wales.

Munich (or München in German), probably best known in the UK for its annual Oktoberfest, and its Champions League-winning football team, Bayern Munich, is the third largest city in Germany. The Bavarian city is famed worldwide for its impressive architecture, which ranges from the ultra-modern, Allianz Arena, which changes colour, to the gothic spires of the Frauenkirche Cathedral, one of the tallest buildings in Munich. Perhaps more importantly, at least for the popularity of BMIbaby’s new route over the winter period, Munich is host to a series of Christmas markets, which will take place between November 26 and December 24 2010.

Flights from Cardiff began operating on a thrice-weekly basis at the end of October. BMIbaby is hoping that in excess of 10,000 people will be tempted by a trip to the “world’s most liveable city,” to quote lifestyle magazine, Monocle.

BMIbaby’s Managing Director, Julian Carr, was “delighted” with the airline’s connection to Munich. “This new route will allow the region to develop strong business links with Germany. It really is an exciting time for the airline in Cardiff.” Mr Carr also said that BMIbaby was “proud” to be able to provide South Wales with new routes and opportunities for “inward investment” from the continent.

The airline is currently the only carrier in the southwest to provide a flight to Munich, which should help the airport snatch customers away from nearby Bristol International. Previously, Bristol Airport’s flights to Innsbruck and Salzburg in Austria were the closest that passengers in Wales could get to Munich, without having to catch the train to London or the North of England.

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Roads must improve, says Flybe

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Page last updated: 1st Oct 2010 - 02:22 PM

Cardiff Airport is at the mercy of local infrastructure, according to budget airline boss Mike Rutter.

Rutter, who is sales and marketing director at Flybe, claims that poor road and motorway access around the Welsh hub is becoming an “excuse” to avoid the airport, affecting both passengers and airlines alike.

“You don’t want to give passengers too many excuses not to use Cardiff Airport,” Mike told WalesOnline earlier this month.

Plans to build a new road between the M4 and Cardiff Airport were recently deemed “too expensive” by the Welsh government and scrapped, prompting Mike’s comments.

The link-way could have opened up lucrative markets in London and the southeast of England, as well as providing travellers with better access to the airport.

Poor infrastructure can prove devastating to airport business. Freight firms struggle to move goods and travellers are more likely to choose a different airport than spend hours negotiating country lanes.

The latter point is especially pertinent in Cardiff, as the larger Bristol International Airport is only an hour’s drive from the Welsh capital.

Yet despite Mike Rutter’s concerns, the amount of money that Flybe squeezes out of Cardiff travellers increased 50% in the year to March 2010.

The airline reported a boom in the number of people flying to Scotland from Cardiff, with Glasgow traffic rising 45%, and a flight to Edinburgh posting an impressive 72% increase in sales.

Cardiff Airport has issued an open invitation for new routes from Flybe, after the carrier announced the purchase of 140 new planes.

Flybe is alleged to be one of just three European airlines to have emerged from the recession in profit, earning £5.7m in the year to March 2010, 98% more than the previous year.

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Cardiff craves new routes

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Page last updated: 5th Aug 2010 - 01:28 PM

Cardiff Airport is keen to ‘examine the possibility’ of a Flybe expansion at the Welsh hub, following news that the carrier wants to buy up to 140 new planes.

Flybe has already secured 35 new jets, at a cost of £850m. The aircraft, which are made by Embraer, are expected to arrive after September 2011.

Jim French, Flybe’s CEO, claims that the airline’s new toys will secure its position as a market leader in Europe. The planes are from Embraer’s E-family, and include the E-175, an 88-seat, low-emission model.

Flybe’s total investment, if it purchases the intended 140 aircraft, is in the region of £3.3bn. The move has been pounced on by airport bosses, who hope that the carrier’s extravagance signals a series of new routes at Flybe bases throughout the UK.

Officials at Liverpool, Birmingham, and most recently, Cardiff airports have been speculating as to what Flybe intends to do with its new aeroplanes.

Mike Rutter, the airline’s CEO, has said that routes to the Channel Islands and Scandinavia could be created, but the executive did not mention which airports would benefit from expansion. Flybe is especially keen to resume a jet service to Guernsey, however, following the route’s cancellation in 2008.

Cardiff Airport boss, Steve Hodgetts, was hopeful – “we welcome any discussions with Flybe about expanding the airline's operation at Cardiff. There is great demand for services to important business and leisure destinations.”

Steve cited Germany and France as key growth locations, and referred to the airline as an “ideal partner.”

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