Posted by: Peter Scott | March 24, 2014

Let’s keep Manston

It is said that aviation is in the blood (or in the genes). My partner worked as cabin crew with Air New Zealand before becoming their senior HR manager responsible for all off-shore based Air New Zealand staff; her cousin is a senior pilot with Cathay Pacific; of her uncles, one was managing director of Heathrow (when BAA was still civil service) another flew V-bombers during the cold war. Once you are involved in flight you always want to return to it; It becomes hard to imagine an employment without being close to aircraft and breathing aviation fuel. Even working landside at airport gives a buzz that you just don’t get working in ‘normal’ job

My involvement in flight was less direct (although I had a government posting to LHR for a while and KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Manchester Airport are customers of mine) – my first flight was in rearward facing seats back in the ‘70s and I became hooked; since then I knocked up a lot miles as a passenger in a variety of planes from de Havilland Beavers and Fokker Friendships through to modern wide-bodied jets. My work often takes me abroad, I am world authority in my field, I get invited to speak at conferences around the world or do some troubleshooting (and often at only a couple of days notice). I need reliable access to air transport just to do my job. The globally accessible internet virtual presence ideal just does not cut it when you are speaking to a hall-ful of people or need to sit down with people for several days to diagnose problems.

So, when it was proposed to close my local airport at Manston I was appalled. Knowing how my partner thinks, I was appalled by the prospects for the staff losing a way of life that becomes part of their soul. The prospect of skilled ancillary workers either having to move great distances or leave an industry they love, the prospect of customer-facing staff not having pax to deal with. The human costs of closure are not light ones.

As a local, I know too of the history – few places have an aviation pedigree going back a century to the early days of combat flying; have links to many other significant periods of history during wars and peace, and even into the space age as a designated emergency field for the space shuttle, though, thankfully, never used.

Physically, Manston has a lot going for it. The length and width of the runway makes it capable of handling the largest aircraft; its location outside of the congested London area can give advantage to carriers running on tight schedules, the distinct microclimate of Thanet can mean the airfield is useful for diversionary use when the London airports are shutdown or compromised by weather. True the passenger facilities are basic, but they work, and efficiently so.

But for me it is the access to international flights without having to travel for hours to get to an airport that appeals. It takes me 10 minutes to get to Manston’s car park; to get to LGW or LHR takes hours by road and much the same by train; add too the time to drop bags and get airside (even with frequent flyer priority) and a journey from LHR would need to be three or four hours quicker than changing in Amsterdam to make it worthwhile. London City is an option for me but even with the HS1 to Stratford International it is still about 2 hours by rail. Recently I had work in Johannesburg, flying on the early flight from Manston via Amsterdam I could be in South Africa in about 13 hours – flying back via Paris and Amsterdam would get me home an hour or so sooner than travelling non-stop to London. Even on shorter flights such as Manston to Helsinki I save an hour or so by changing in Amsterdam on my door to door journey time.

If Manston were to close I’d be forced to make longer and more stressful journeys to the airport, I don’t need much contingency on a ten minute drive. How many people have been stuck on the M25 for an hour or more. Going to Gatwick almost forces you to travel up to London and across as East-West roads in the South East are poor as traffic planners assume that everyone goes to London. Lydd, if it had flights, is over an hour by road, Southend would be an option if there were a hydrofoil link to cross the Thames at speed. As for rail, since HS1 started the Eurostar service from Ashford to Paris and Brussels has been curtailed to just one or two trains a day. Perhaps when DB starts operating Germany to London via the tunnel we might get a more frequent service to Europe.

I have become use to flying from Amsterdam, I hope I can continue to be used to it.

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