With international travel now partly back on the agenda, attention turns back to Cardiff Airport's future.

The pandemic has added to its long term woes. In March, the airport was valued at just £15 million, less than a third of what the Welsh Government paid for it in 2013.

So what can be done to improve its future prospects?

The UK and Welsh Governments have kicked devolution of Air Passenger Duty about since 2019, when a report recommended the tax be devolved to the Senedd.

 The arguments in favour of devolution suggest it could unlock the potential of Cardiff Airport by attracting new airlines and increasing passenger numbers in and out of Wales.

Now, Cardiff Airport's former chairman, believes it is time for the tax to be scrapped across the UK.

Roger Lewis told Westminster's Welsh Affairs Committee: "We have been debating this for many years now, but the world has moved on.

"I believe APD is an impediment to the UK economy. I also believe it is an impediment to recovery and is long overdue for reform."

Lewis, who was chair of the airport until last year, believes scrapping APD for airports that have less than two million annual passengers will contribute to building a fairer and more level United Kingdom.

The National Wales: Roger Lewis stepped down as chair last yearRoger Lewis stepped down as chair last year

His arguments did little to persuade UK Government ministers, however.

Both the Welsh Secretary of State, Simon Hart, and Secretary to the UK Treasury, Kemi Badenoch, were unmoved on the ideas of either devolving APD or scrapping it entirely.

For them, devolution would put Bristol Airport at a competitive disadvantage.

It is a position that stands in opposition to most independent analysis and research.

Guto Ifan, researcher at Cardiff University's Wales Governance Centre, told The National: "Tax devolution should not be predicated on any specific policy decision, and there is no convincing argument against allowing the Welsh Government complete control of APD."

Of course, there are environmental considerations in play also.

The Welsh Government has just shelved all road building projects on environmental grounds, while there was no mention of the airport included in last week's Programme For Government.

The Welsh Conservatives have raised the point about where the airport fits in with the Government's plans.

The party's shadow minister for transport and technology, Natasha Asghar, said: "The airport has been the responsibility of Labour ministers since 2013 but it's sadly turning into a white elephant, regardless of the powers in Cardiff Bay.

"We need an urgent statement from the Welsh Government about what its plans are for the airport during this Senedd.”


Asked about its position on APD and Cardiff Airport, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We continue to pursue the devolution of APD to Wales.

“There is unanimous support for this from the aviation, tourism and business sectors in Wales and it has the backing of the Welsh Affairs Committee.

“Independent research has set out the economic benefits devolving APD to Wales could bring.

“We are committed to maintaining an aviation capacity in Wales, because of the benefits that it brings to the Welsh economy as a whole, whilst recognising the challenges this creates for meeting our targets on decarbonisation.”

For Plaid Cymru, it should be up to the Welsh Government to decide what it does with Welsh assets.

Delyth Jewell, the party’s spokesperson for climate, energy and transport, told The National: “A successful Cardiff Airport plays an important part in the economic wellbeing of Wales.

“Plaid Cymru has long campaigned for the devolution of Air Passenger Duty so that decisions which affect transport policy and its implications for climate change are made in Wales.

“Wales has declared a climate emergency and we must move away from an expansion of air travel as a central tenet of any transport policy, though we do recognise the essential element the airport plays in international communication and the tourism industry.”

Regardless of whether or not APD is eventually devolved, Roger Lewis believes the Welsh Government has a long term role to play.

While the Welsh Government's ownership has been politicised since it took ownership, Cardiff Airport is not unique. Luton, Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports are among a number in the UK part owned by public bodies.

Reflecting on the airport's ownership, Mr Lewis said: "The market failed Cardiff Airport because it was part of a global bundle deal.

"My direction of travel was always to be subsidy free, but you always want to manage your critical strategic assets, so there is always a role government can play."

The balancing act of running Wales' only international airport, while managing a climate emergency will continue for the Welsh Government. For now, it appears it will have little help from its UK counterpart.

If you value The National's political journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.