Civil Aviation Authority provisionally suspends Swansea Airport’s licence again
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) inspectors visited Swansea airport last week and suspended its refuelling licence before calling a provisional halt on the operating licence.
It comes less than a month after Swansea Council, which owns the facility, agreed to start negotiating a new lease with the current operator, Swansea Airport Ltd, to the consternation of campaigners who had urged the authority to consider other options.
Shortly before council chiefs decided to renew the lease, Swansea Airport Ltd said scheduled passenger flights between Swansea and Exeter would start at the end of March this year.
The CAA told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it had provisionally suspended the operating licence due to a “systemic failure of safety management”. It cited ineffective safety management, inadequate safeguarding of the aerodrome, and an absence of an accountable manager.
Swansea Airport Ltd has until February 28 to submit a “corrective action plan” to address the shortcomings. The CAA could escalate regulatory action.
Swansea Airport Ltd director Roy Thomas said he would be submitting an action plan, and that he expected to appoint a new accountable manager shortly.
Mr Thomas said the previous accountable manager had been in post on the day the CAA inspected but that he stepped down to another position very shortly afterwards for personal reasons.
Mr Thomas also said airport staff would focus more on ensuring the three-mile airport perimeter was secure from grazing animals.
He said the latest CAA action could put the Swansea to Exeter flights’ plan back.
A spokesman for Exeter Airport said an airline operator has been in touch about a potential service to Swansea, but no names were mentioned.
The spokesman said: “We can confirm that we have been approached by an operator interested in this route and are awaiting further details from them.”
Swansea Airport Ltd took over an existing lease for the airport, at Fairwood Common, Gower, around 20 years ago. The CAA suspended the operating licence in 2019 on safety grounds, reinstating it two years later.
A number of airport users have claimed that the airport has become run down, and set up a group called Swansea Airport Stakeholders’ Alliance. The alliance has submitted proposals to the council to take over the running of the airport, as has a businessman, Jim Blythe, who leases aircraft there.
Swansea Council’s cabinet considered a request by Swansea Airport Ltd for a new lease at a meeting on January 19. A report said the tenant had strong legal rights to request a renewal. Cabinet member for corporate service and performance, Cllr David Hopkins, said there were current breaches of the lease as well as historic failings, but that the council had very limit legal grounds on which to oppose a renewal. The decision to start new lease discussions with Swansea Airport Ltd was made behind closed doors.
The cabinet report did recommend though that alternative lease terms were proposed and that the operator continued to invest in the airport.
Dating from the Second World War, the airport has been used by private pilots, flying schools, air cadets, sky-diving operators and Wales Air Ambulance – now based in Dafen, near Llanelli – over the years.
Mr Thomas has repeatedly said that he has been investing in the airport and that he planned to reopen the cafe, which has been shut for years, in the coming weeks.
Although the airport’s operating licence is provisionally suspended, flight schools and other training activities that don’t require a licensed facility can still operate from there.
A Swansea Council spokesman said: “We are aware of the position, are in contact with the CAA and tenant, and are considering the situation.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.