Senior Pembrokeshire councillors are next week being recommended to lease Haverfordwest airport as part of plans to make the council-run facility, which had a circa £119,000 deficit last  year, cost-neutral to the authority.

Last year, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, members heard the financial position at the council-supported Haverfordwest/Withybush airport deteriorated in 2022/23, with an out-turn position for 2022/23 of £238,000.

In March of this year, Pembrokeshire County Council’s services overview and scrutiny committee backed a recommendation that a lease to an existing stakeholder / established aviation company was pursued, including a wider stakeholder consultation.

A report before members at that meeting said the £238,000 loss had been reduced to an expected £119,000 for 2023/24 “following an extensive review of the operations of the airport”.

The report listed reasons for the halving of this deficit, including: an increased profit margin on fuel £40,000; increased landing fees £7,000; reduction in staff training £8,000; reduction in equipment and equipment maintenance costs £10,000; and a reduction in one off costs of hedges and sewers £53,000.

Following the scrutiny meeting, a more detailed recommendation is to be presented to Cabinet on May 20, and, if approved, would be dealt with under the delegated authority of the Assistant Chief Executive, with relevant input from officers.

Milford Mercury: Haverfordwest Airport. PICTURE: Western Telegraph (26202103)

The report before Cabinet says, following discussions with existing stakeholders, “it seems likely that the council would be able to agree a lease of the airport to an experienced and well-established aviation company who is an existing stakeholder with a good track record”.

The lease would be for an initial 10-year term, with a requirement to obtain/keep a CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] Cat II licence and at a market rent.

It adds: “This option would make the airport cost-neutral to the council from the day the lease is signed whilst also ensuring that an operational airport remains for Pembrokeshire to benefit from.

“The council intends to exclude Hangar 5 [indoor trampolines] from any lease as it is not part of the operational area of the airport and doesn't house an aviation-linked business. This enables the council to keep the rental income from this property.

“The council also intends to include an option to take back, at no cost, part of the airport that may have the potential to be developed as a solar farm or industrial units.  Any staff currently employed at the airport would transfer to any new tenant/operator.

“Any lease would have to allow the operator to run the airport on the commercial terms of their choosing to give a chance of long-term sustainability, so, the council will lose full control of how the airport operates.

“However, any lease will require that the airport be maintained to an acceptable standard and that a CAA Cat II licence is maintained. If these terms of the agreement are breached, then the facility will return to the council.”

The report finishes: “It should be of note that an alternative proposal has recently been put forward by another existing stakeholder who does not have aviation experience.

“The proposal is one of a land swap whereby the council would exchange the airport land for other land owned by the stakeholder concerned. If this option were to be taken, the council would relinquish all its interest and any element of control it has in the airport, and accordingly there is no guarantee that an operational airport would remain in the county.”

It is recommended the former proposal is adopted; that the airport is leased to an existing stakeholder and established aviation company.