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U.S. hedge fund submits plans to resurrect Manston Airport

U.S.-based hedge fund RiverOak has submitted an outline for its plans to redevelop Manston Airport in the southeast of the U.K. The plans will be opened to public comment later this month, according to local media.

RiverOak says it will reveal more details regarding its plans for freight operations at the airport, but that the airport will be almost exclusively dedicated to air cargo. Manston airport, located in the Thanet district in northeast Kent near the English Channel, closed in 2014 after racking up losses of around US$130 million over 16 years of private ownership.

The Thanet council previously rejected RiverOak as a potential indemnity partner to take control of the airfield. Now the firm has submitted a 216-page scoping report to the Planning Inspectorate to obtain a development consent order (DCO) to take control of the airport land.

The plans, RiverOak said, are to provide an integrated aviation services hub, centered around a “major international center for airfreight that is capable of handling a minimum of 10,000 airfreight Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) per annum.” This volume of traffic is roughly equal to 14 return services a day. RiverOak also plans to develop a base for at least one passenger carrier; an aircraft recycling and engineering facility; a flight training school; a fixed-base operation for executive travel; and business facilities for aviation-related organizations.

RiverOak’s asserts that “the move from Boeing 747s to Airbus 380s – aircraft that carry less belly hold freight – is exacerbating overcrowding” on cargo flights. The hedge fund argues that “the majority of U.K. airfreight currently routes through London but, without slots available at the London airports, Manston is the obvious choice to meet the growing demand in the freight market.”

While London’s airports are famously overcrowded, globally freight load factors are down and bellyhold capacity is on the rise. However, the hedge fund cites the Freight Transport Association, in partnership with Transport for London, who have forecast a shortfall in air freight capacity of some 2.1 million tonnes by 2050. Rather than divert this traffic outside the U.K. and generate billions in losses, RiverOak argues, the local government should support a cargo airport in the southeast of England.

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