A prominent Scottish economist has called for Dundee Airport to be closed.
Tony Mackay believed the millions of pounds of public subsidy poured into attracting the few passengers who use Riverside should be spent on other economic development schemes in Dundee.
His controversial call follows similar criticism from the president of Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce and the chief executive of Edinburgh Airport.
In his March review on the Scottish economy, he asserted in his Mackay Consultants report that it is time to close Prestwick and Dundee airports.
Charting the recent history of the Ayrshire facility, Mr Mackay questioned the Scottish Government’s wisdom in giving out loans of £25 million to a venture whose prospects “are grim unless you believe in the Spaceport” a plan he described as “pie in the sky”.
Turning to the east coast, he said: “Dundee Airport is in a similar position, with a large fall in passenger numbers and huge financial losses.”
The airport was in the red by £4.1 million in 2013-14, he stated, and was used by 26,774 passengers, a fall of 45%.
The situation worsened in 2014-15, with a 19.5% fall to 22,865, and the financial loss is expected to be £4.5m.
That implied an annual subsidy per passenger flight of £210: “an almost incredible figure which is being paid by the taxpayer you and me!”
He recalled the 2013 Transport Scotland scoping study into potential opportunities for Dundee Airport, most of which he said was good and included a lot of very useful information.
“However, the economic analysis is very poor and the traffic forecasts ludicrous,” he alleged, citing its suggestion of an underlying market to develop new domestic and international services.
The scoping study said the market could give rise, depending on the success with which the airport can attract airlines who can then attract passengers from within Dundee’s core catchment areas, to passenger throughputs of between 75,000 and 400,000 passengers.
With passenger numbers in 2014 totalling just 22,865, he asked: “How can anyone forecast an increase to 75,000, never mind 400,000?”
Mr Mackay understood why local people want to keep Dundee Airport because of the threat of job losses and problems for local businesses.
He continued: “However, I am sure that Dundee City Council and Scottish Enterprise could generate much more economic benefits with an additional £4.5m per year than subsidising air passengers at about £210 per flight.
“I believe that the Scottish Government should close Dundee Airport and give additional money to bodies in Dundee for economic development to compensate for the closure.”
Presenting his report yesterday, Mr Mackay said that he had no axe to grind against Dundee or Prestwick airports.
“I have studied the figures and background documents and am simply producing my objective economic assessment of the situation,” he added.
Last month Chamber president Tim Allan, expressing a personal view, said it was time to question the relevance of Dundee Airport as it did not enjoy the support of the business or travelling public.
Edinburgh Airport CEO Gordon Dewar said he didn’t believe the Government subsidy of a Dundee-Stansted air link should be paid for using public funds. Dundee’s air transport interests could be better served, he believed, by improved hourly rail connections to his airport, which offered more than 50 daily flights into London airports over £200 cheaper than the Dundee-Stansted tickets.
Will Dawson, Dundee City Council’s development convener and chairman of regional transport body Tactran, defended the airport. He said it was early in the life of the Stansted service in being half-way through the three-year public service obligation subsidy period.
He considered there were grounds for optimism with more business people choosing to fly from Dundee. With many good things happening in the city, he said the Stansted service was well placed to serve this growing market.