On 27 March 2013, the Welsh Government announced it had purchased the Cardiff International Airport Ltd from TBI Ltd as a going concern for £52,000,000. Claims were made that this was a "nationalisation", a private enterprise being acquired by the state, and as such these claims appear correct, however the Welsh Government's First Minister, Rt.Hon Carwyn Jones AM, announced: "The Airport will not be operated by the Welsh Government. It will be managed at arm's length from Government on a commercial basis and, over time, I expect to see a return to the public purse on the investment." The Chief Executive of Cardiff's main rival, Bristol Airport, Robert Sinclair said the purchase price of £52m paid by the Welsh Government was "well above market value when compared to recent transactions involving UK Airports – gives us concern that ongoing government involvement and support is highly likely,"
In March 2015 it was confirmed that WRU Group Chief Executive Roger Lewis, would succeed Lord Rowe-Beddoe as chairman of Cardiff Airport on 1 November 2015, following the 2015 Rugby World Cup when he would stand down from the WRU.
Since 2013 Cardiff Airport has undergone a huge transformation with improvements made to the terminal, surrounding infrastructure, customer service standards and also the introduction of new routes. In June 2015 Europe's largest regional airline Flybe opened a two aircraft base at Cardiff. The airline now operates a busy flight network of 16 direct routes across the UK & Europe to destinations including Faro, Jersey, Dublin, Glasgow, Berlin, Verona and Paris CDG.
The history of the Airport extends back to the early 1940s, when the Air Ministry requisitioned land in the rural Vale of Glamorgan to set up a wartime satellite aerodrome and training base, named RAF Rhoose, for Royal Air Force (RAF) Spitfire pilots. Construction work commenced in 1941, and the airfield officially began life on 7 April 1942 when it was taken over by No 53 Operational Training Unit. After WW2 the airfield fell into disuse and was abandoned.
The man who decided Rhoose could be the site of a new Airport was David Rees-Williams (later Lord Ogmore) a Bridgend-born solicitor who had served as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Artillery during the WW2 and who. in 1945, been elected MP for Croydon South. In 1951 Rees-Williams was appointed, briefly, Minister of Aviation and identified what he called a "great need for a commercial Airport of international standards" in South Wales. He later told the House of Lords "a decision had to be taken whether to do nothing at all (which was the desire of some) or whether Pengam Moors, the existing Airport for Cardiff, should be improved at a cost of some millions of pounds, involving the alteration of the course of the Rumney River or, thirdly, whether an entirely new Airport should be constructed or acquired in the vicinity of the capital of Wales."
Rees-Williams thought diverting the river at Pengam would be a problem, and feared that the tall chimney stacks of the nearby East Moors Steelworks could pose a safety hazard to aircraft. The Welsh Civil Aviation Consultative Committee then proposed he should look at the "abandoned Royal Air Force airfield at Rhoose" as a possible alternative. On inspecting it Rees-Williams found it "in a poor condition, with a large number of bombs stacked on the runways, and buildings in an extreme state of dilapidation". However he considered Rhoose could be suitable for civil aviation "if the necessary money and time were spent upon it". The Government accepted his proposal and the Ministry of Aviation promptly began converting the abandoned airfield into a civilian Airport. In October 1952 the new Rhoose Airport was opened by Rees-Williams's successor as Minister of Aviation Alan Lennox-Boyd.
Also in 1952 Aer Lingus started a service to Dublin. Civilian flights from the old Cardiff Municipal Airport at Pengam Moors were transferred to Rhoose on 1 April 1954. A new terminal building followed, along with flights to France, Belfast and Cork. An escalation in holiday charter business resulted in passenger throughout exceeding 100,000 in 1962.
On 1 April 1965 the Ministry of Aviation handed over the Airport to Glamorgan County Council and it was renamed Glamorgan (Rhoose) Airport. The council started a five-year plan to develop the Airport including a new control tower, terminal building and a runway extension.
In the 1970s, the supersonic airliner Concorde made a few flights into the Airport on special occasions. These were limited by the length of the runway, meaning it could only land lightly loaded, and only take off without passengers and with a minimal fuel load. In the 1980s, its name was changed to 'Cardiff-Wales Airport'.
1986 saw a further extension of 750 ft (229 m) to the runway, costing in the region of £1 million, thus attracting more business to the Airport in the form of new-generation jet aircraft. Development of transatlantic links were made with charter flights to Florida, in addition to the previously-established links with Canada. The runway extension, enabling the Airport to handle 747 jumbo jets, was instrumental in attracting the British Airways (BA) Maintenance facility to the Airport. The maintenance hangar is one of the largest in the world at 250 m × 175 m (820 ft × 574 ft), providing heavy airframe and engineering maintenance for the British Airways fleet and third party carriers.
In April 1995, due to planned Local Government re-organisation in Wales, the Airport Company was privatised, with shares being sold to property and development firm, TBI plc, which has now been converted back to a private company called TBI Ltd (a subsidiary of Abertis and AENA International). TBI Ltd also controls Luton Airport, Stockholm Skavsta, Belfast International Airport, SABSTA (which owns three Bolivian Airports) and is concessionary to Orlando Sanford International Airport.
In December 1995, Heli-air Wales began training Helicopter Pilots from the Airport's southside, and are widely accredited with pioneering Helicopter Training in Wales. Heli-air Wales moved operations to Swansea Airport in 1999, and are still trading there to this day.
The Airport is not only the main maintenance base for British Airways but also home to a variety of aerospace-oriented firms and colleges, and therefore a major contributor to the economic development of the region.
The Airport was used by 2.1 million passengers in 2008, falling to around 1.1 million passengers in 2013, according to the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority, a reduction of nearly 50% since 2008, making it the 21st busiest Airport in the UK in terms of passenger numbers.
The Airport was the main base for three local airlines; Cambrian Airways from 1935 to 1976, Airways International Cymru until the airline ceased operations in 1988, and Air Wales until the airline ceased scheduled operations in March 2006.
In 2006 the Irish low cost carrier Ryanair withdrew from the Airport ending 5 years of service on the Cardiff to Dublin route daily. This was due to a very public falling out with the Airport over charges. The airline has since returned and now operates two flights a week to the Canaries all year round.
In 2007 a new airline was mooted as a new home carrier at the Airport; and if it was launched, Flyforbeans said they would operate to France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe. The airline intended to have routes currently unavailable from the Airport and had indicated that it intended to begin operations in mid-2008, with 3 Boeing 737 aircraft initially serving up to twelve destinations in total, these plans never came fruition & the airline remained purely on paper.
Following a survey conducted by the Airport operator in 2008 as part of a campaign to attract additional business routes to the Airport, popular destinations such as Aberdeen, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Brussels and Scandinavian cities were identified as lacking a current link. The Airport planned to conduct up to 25 meetings with airlines during May and June 2008 to support the case for more routes.
On 2 March 2009 the Airport management revealed a name change for the Airport along with initial development plans to improve the image of the facility. Following a brand review involving consultation with a number of key stakeholders the name Cardiff Airport and Maes Awyr Caerdydd replaced Cardiff International Airport.
However, it emerged that the Airport had applied for £5 million of payments from the Welsh Assembly Government to deal with unspecified development at the terminal. This attracted immediate public criticism and requests that the Airport's owners, Abertis, match such an investment with a £6 million route development programme.
It was announced on 13 April 2011 that Bmibaby were to close their base at the Airport, along with their base at Manchester Airport in the following October in order to redeploy aircraft at their other bases, including the creation of a new operation at Belfast City Airport. The base closed on 30 October 2011.
It was announced on 28 October 2011, that Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling are to open a new route to Barcelona commencing 27 March 2012 operating the route three times per week. Just over a month later it was announced that Monarch were to serve Orlando Sanford Airport, Florida for the following summer, commencing the service on 28 May 2012. It operated on behalf of its own holiday wing, Monarch Holidays, and its partner company Cosmos. This was the first time in 4 years that there was a direct charter connection to the United States, however the route has since ceased.
On 16 May 2012, it was announced that Airport Managing Director, Patrick Duffy, had left his position amid mounting pressure from the Welsh Government on the Airport owners Abertis to improve the state of the Airport and improve the services it offers, or sell the facility to an investor in a proposed public-private partnership. It is unclear as to why exactly Duffy left his position after four years. On 18 December 2012 it was announced that the Welsh Government was interested in buying the Airport from its current owners. It was announced on 27 March 2013 that the Welsh Government had purchased Cardiff Airport for £52 million.
As of March 2013, the Welsh Government is in the process of acquiring Cardiff Airport from TBI/Abertis, who may also divest themselves of all their Airport assets following international criticism of their management of these resources. The deal was officially announced on 27 March 2013, that the Airport would be bought back into public ownership for the sum of £52 Million. The Welsh Government are to publish plans to transform the Airport within the coming weeks.
Cardiff Airport has also had several problems with wild fly-grazing horses around the airfield and the Redwings Sanctuary in Norfolk were needed to assist in the rescue of 23 unclaimed horses that had been left on the site.
On 15 May 2014 it was announced that Ryanair would return to the Airport after an absence of 8 years and now operates a twice weekly service to Tenerife.
In June 2015 a major deal was signed with Flybe which saw the opening of a two aircraft base for their Embraer 195 jet aircraft.
Flybe planned to link Cardiff with London City Airport through a temporary route from 12 September 2016 until 21 October 2016 due to the temporary closure of the Severn Tunnel. However, this service is now continued as a regular flight due to high demand.
In 2012, the Airport faced sustained criticism from the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. On 28 February 2012, Jones told the Welsh Assembly, "We would like to see many routes emerging from Cardiff Airport, but the Airport must get its act together... Last week, I went to the Airport and the main entrance was shut. People could not go in through the main entrance; they had to go through the side entrance. It is important that the Airport puts itself in a position where it is attractive to new airlines, and, unfortunately, that is not the case at present." . His criticism led to accusations that he was "talking down" Cardiff Airport whilst aviation industry professionals commented he was out of his depth in this area. However Jones returned to this theme on 7 March 2012 saying, "With the condition of the Airport at the moment I would not want to bring people in through Cardiff Airport because of the impression it would give of Wales...I have to say the time has come now for the owners of the Airport to decide to run the Airport properly or sell it." Byron Davies, Shadow Minister for Transport, said: "It is a bit rich for the First Minister to publicly attack and run down Cardiff Airport, when he has failed to seize opportunities, which would massively increase the range of routes available from Cardiff, introduce direct routes to North America, opening our economy to trade and business with one of the world's biggest economies". Liberal Democrats spokesperson, Eluned Parrott, said: "The First Minister needs to stop talking our capital city's Airport down and instead he should be doing all he can to encourage visitors to Cardiff Airport.His comments are hardly going to encourage tourism and business to Wales."
The First Minister's criticism was roundly rejected by Alex Cruz, chief executive of Vueling – a Spanish airline which operates regular flights from Cardiff. Cruz said "We are more than satisfied with Cardiff Airport. We would not fly into an Airport that we did not feel was suitable for our customers." However, on 20 March 2012 Jones again criticised Cardiff Airport saying "business people" had complained to him "week after week, for many months about the Airport." He asserted he had put their points to the owners of the Airport but "they have been met with a shrug of the shoulders. That is just not good enough. I know of situations, and have seen them myself, where people have been locked in the baggage hall and where the front door was not open and people had to go in through a side door—I had to do that the last time I used the Airport."
On 29 May 2012 it was announced that Jones would personally chair a "Task Force" on Cardiff Airport with the aim of "maximising its economic impact, commercially and for Wales". On 27 June 2012, the Task Force, comprising tourist chiefs, local government spokesmen and trade unionists, met for the first time. No airlines were invited to attend. A bid to obtain the full minutes of the meeting under the Freedom of Information Act was refused by the Information Commissioner
Provisional figures from the UK Civil Aviation Authority show that the number of passengers passing through Cardiff Airport have now fallen to less than 1 Million over the past 12 months.
The nationalisation of Cardiff Airport was criticised by the owners of Bristol Airport, who claimed that the £52 million paid for the Airport was well over market value, and are worried about what they claim is the possibility of state subsidy to Cardiff Airport. They also claimed that nationalisation was against the global trend of privatising Airports. The Welsh Government stated that the Airport would receive no government subsidy, and would be run on an arm's length, commercial basis.
The Welsh Conservative Party said that the nationalisation of Cardiff Airport by the Welsh Labour Government was a socialist vanity project and that the money should have been spent on public services.
On 29 March 2006 a £100 million development strategy was announced which will see the current terminal being extended, as well as upgrades to the main body of the building. It was anticipated that the investment would attract up to five million passengers by 2015 – an increase of 150% – according to the Airport's published response to a UK Government White paper on the future of air transport throughout the United Kingdom.
Costing around £3m, half funded by the Welsh Government, extensive refurbishment is expected starting with the redevelopment of the front of the Airport terminal and approach areas. The development works include an extension to the front of the terminal linking the arrivals and departures halls into one large common area, providing new food and retail services. As part of the work the first floor of the terminal will become 'airside' as the security control point to access the departures lounge is relocated to the first floor, above the existing arrivals hall and accessed through the new extension. The approach area in front of the terminal building will also be redesigned and landscaped. Subsequently, it emerged that Cardiff Airport was seeking £5 million from Welsh taxpayers, without specifying what works might be carried out. Public objections to this investment may be expected prior to the May elections for the Welsh Assembly.
Road access to the Airport by way of the A48 trunk road was the subject of a public inquiry in 2006 but this is now superseded by needs of the forthcoming Defence Training Academy at MoD St Athan, the bid for which included plans for a direct St Athan and Airport link to the M4 motorway. With the growth in usage of the Airport, traffic along the current access roads has become more acute leading to the Welsh Assembly Government to commission a study on improving road access to the Airport. The consultants suggested three possible schemes:
- Widening the A4232 to three lanes between M4 Junction 33 and Culverhouse. A bypass would have been built connecting the A4232 directly to the A4050 to avoid the busy Culverhouse Cross roundabout.
- Constructing a new bypass road to link the A4232 directly to the A48 (Tumble Hill) before Culverhouse Cross. Airport traffic would then have travelled to Sycamore Cross then join the A4226 to the Airport. Improvements will be made to allow speeds to increase.
- Directing traffic from Junction 34 (Miskin) to Sycamore Cross then onto the A4226 to the Airport. Improvements would have been made to the route with new straighter sections added.
Airport management favour option 3, which would have eased pressure from the A4232 and provide a more direct access route from Mid and South West Wales, and the South Wales Valleys. The National Assembly for Wales announced in June 2009 that the plans for a new access road would be dropped in favour of increased public transport frequency by bus and by rail instead. The Vale of Glamorgan Council agreed to hand over a publicly owned road passing in front of the Airport terminal to control of the Airport authority on security grounds. Subsequently, the Airport has imposed a £1 user toll on this road, without returning any income to its original public owners.
Cardiff Airport is the only Airport in Wales which offers international scheduled flights and is also served by scheduled, low-fare, business and charter carriers. It also supports corporate and general aviation. The majority of international flights are to Spain, Ireland and the Netherlands. On 21 February 2007 the Airport announced that it would host the first Public Service Obligation (PSO) service to be operated in Wales. This Welsh Government subsidised service is currently operated by Citywing with daily flights to the Isle of Anglesey.
The following airlines operate regular scheduled and charter flights to and from Cardiff:
The nearest railway station to the Airport is Rhoose Cardiff International Airport railway station on the Vale of Glamorgan Line. This is linked by a shuttle bus to the departures terminal. Arriva Trains Wales provides regular services to Cardiff Central Station and Bridgend, connecting it to the South Wales Main Line.
From 1 August 2013, TrawsCymru has operated the "Cardiff Airport Express" (Welsh: Gwennol Maes Awyr Caerdydd) direct from Cardiff Airport to Cardiff City centre. The T9 service runs on a 20-minute schedule and offers customers free wifi along with leather seats and rail connections.
The Airport is 10 mi (16 km) from the M4 and is signposted. From M4 junction 33 (Cardiff West), it is reached via the A4232 (towards Central Cardiff) exiting at Culverhouse Cross, and then following the A4050 to Barry and finally the A4226 towards Llantwit Major. Another signposted route from the M4, from West Wales, is from Junction 37 near Pyle, which follows the A48 past Cowbridge then south along the A4226. However, there is a direct unmarked route from M4 Junction 34 (Miskin), following the country lane though Hensol, then at the crossroads (Sycamore Cross) with the A48, continuing along the A4226 to the Airport.
The Airport was home for many years to a number of flying clubs and small general aviation operators. These included a Helicopter Operator (www.heli-airwales.co.uk), who later moved to Swansea Airport and still trade there today, the Cambrian and Pegasus Flying Clubs and later (from the mid-1980s) the Cardiff Wales Flying Club. In 2010 a new flying school was set up by the company Aeros, They currently (2012) have a fleet including Cessna 152's and Piper Warriors, they are based in the White Building on the southside of the airfield. There is a small cafe in the White Building that offers facilities for private aircraft owners.
Signature Flight Support are present on the south side of the airfield serving executive aircraft that visit the Airport. Signature Flight Support uses the former Cambrian Airways HQ as their office. Executive aircraft park on either the Norman Parking Area, Golf Taxiway or the newly commissioned Cambrian Parking Area which has been named in honour of the former airline of the same name.
Dragonfly Executive Air Charter operate three Beechcraft King Air 200 series aircraft. The company office is based on the south side of the airfield.