Kent International Airport

Kent International Airport

Introduction

Kent International Airport was formerly called RAF Manston (a Royal Air Force airfield) – also, previously known as London Manston Airport.

At the outset of the First World War, the Isle of Thanet was equipped with a tiny and insecure landing strip for aircraft at Westgate, above the cliffs at the foot of the sea where a seaplane had been based at the end of the promenade.

 

The landing grounds on top of the cliff soon became the site of a number of accidents, with at least one plane observed to fail to stop before the end of the cliffs and fall over into the sea which, providentially for the pilot, had been on its inward tide.

 

In the winter of 1915-1916 these early aircraft first began to use the open farmlands at Manston as a site for emergency landings. So was established the Admiralty Aerodrome at Manston. It was not long after this that the training school, set up in the beginning to instruct pilots in the use of the new Handley Page bombers, was created, and by the close of 1916 there were already two distinctive units stationed at Manston, the Operational War Flight Command and the Handley Page Training School.

 

Its position near the Kent coast gave Manston some advantages over other earlier established aerodromes and regular additions in men and machinery were soon made, chiefly, in these early days, from Detling. By 1917 the Royal Flying Corps was well-known and taking an active part in the defence of England. In World War II, after the Battle of Britain during which Manston was seriously bombed, Barnes Wallis used the base to test his bouncing bomb on the coast at nearby Reculver preceding the Dambusters raid.

 

Hawker Typhoon and Meteor squadrons were both based at Manston during the war. Being close to the front-line and having a long and broad runway the airfield became a lucky landing site for badly damaged aeroplanes that had suffered from ground fire, collisions, or air attack. The airfield became something of a graveyard for heavy bombers and the less-damaged portions of aircraft landing here sometimes provided spare parts for other allied aircraft in need of repair. The museums on site display some astonishing aerial views dating from this period and the post-war years. During the Cold War of the 1950s the United States Air Force used Manston as a Strategic Air Command base for its fighter and fighter-bomber units.

 

The USAF withdrew from Manston in 1960 and the airfield became a joint civilian and RAF airport and was in use for occasional package tour and cargo flights, alongside its continuing role as an RAF base. The Air Cadets used the northern side of the airfield as a gliding site, and an Air Experience Flight flying De Havilland Chipmunks was established there. Owing to its broad long runway, (built during World War II, along with Woodbridge's, to allow returning damaged bombers a longer runway to land on) Manston was used as a diversionary airfield for emergency military and civilian landings.

 

From 1989 Manston became known as KentInternationalAirport, and a new terminal was officially opened that year by the Duchess of York. It is supposedly listed by NASA, although never used, as an emergency diversionary landing strip for the space shuttle programme. Manston is now a completely commercial airport. In 1998 Thanet District Council produced the Isle of Thanet local plan which acknowledged the economic development potential of derelict parts of the old military airfield, particularly on its north western edge.

 

After this plan was published, the Ministry of Defence put forward plans to sell off RAF Manston. After a ruling by the British Labour Government's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, telling government departments to create money by the sale of surplus assets, the Ministry of Defence sold the site.

 

Following the RAF's exodus local MP, Dr. Stephen Ladyman opposed the judgment to sell the base to a property developer (Wiggins Group PLC). The ministry sold the site at the end of March, 1999 for the sum of £4.75m. The airfield comprises 700 acres.

 

KentInternationalAirport was initially a 38 acre civilian area within the former RAF Manston including the existing terminal building and an area where passengers board and the largest of freighters may be loaded. The runway however, is not included within this enclave. In 1988 the owners of KentInternationalAirport negotiated a 125 year legal agreement with the RAF compelling the Air Force to maintain the runway, the air-traffic control and to provide ongoing emergency services. The cost of providing runway maintenance, air-traffic control and Fire and Rescue services had been estimated at up to £3,000,000 per annum by the MoD.

 

The RAF faced a compensation claim of £50-100 million if they then closed the base and ended their previous agreement with KentInternationalAirport. The Wiggins Group consequently bought the KentInternationalAirport and inherited the legal agreement obliging the RAF to carry on the maintenance of the airfield. Within six months the RAF announced that they were leaving the airfield and Wiggins as the successful bidders then purchased the remainder of the airfield.

 

Striking private aircraft based here include a Boeing Stearman and an Iskra jet trainer once serving the Yugoslav Air Force. Two museums can be found on the northern edge of the airfield providing a hint of the aerodrome's military heritage.

 

Speedy development began in 2004 in an effort to make it a budget airline hub and an Irish airline EUjet formed in 2002 started scheduled flights in September 2004 to destinations such as Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin with a small fleet of Fokker F100 airliners. Car parking areas were constructed and a direct coach service from Bluewater via Chatham was begun to support this enterprise, which follows the low fare, no-frills, web-marketing style pioneered by ryanair in the UK. Unluckily on 26 July 2005 all EUjet operations were suspended along with all non-freight operations at the airport due to financial problems with the airport and airline's owner PlaneStation. Their business plan was ambitious and their bankers had lost patience, leading to both businesses failing and to many passengers being stranded abroad. Infratil, a Wellington, New Zealand based company consequently bought the airport interest from the administrators and, having experience of managing an airport in Scotland, Prestwick, might pursue a more measured development programme, possibly winning back some freight operations supposedly deterred by Planestation.

 

Manston has only one runway with its glide path crossing Ramsgate, a Victorian seaside resort of about 40,000 residents. The town is situated about a kilometre from the eastern end of the runway. To one side of the runway lies the village of Cliffsend where housing stands within 200m of the runway. Manston village stands to the north east of the passenger terminal.

 

A 1993 report from the Department of Trade and Industry examined runway capacity in the South East and announced that Manston was inappropriate for development as a major airport considering this closeness to the town. However the sale went against the local council's plan at a loss of about £65,000,000.

 

In July 1998 the government issued a White Paper outlining its intention to develop an 'integrated transport strategy'.

 

The RAF Manston History Museum is still on the site, as is the Spitfire and Hurricane memorial.

 

The airport & runway were also used for the making of the James Bond movie Die Another Day when the airport was transformed into a North Korean airbase.

 

On 26 July 2005 London Manston Airport Plc went into liquidation. Operations were provisionally suspended, along with Manston's air traffic zone and radar services, until a new buyer could be signed-up. A sale of Manston to Infratil (owner of GlasgowPrestwickInternationalAirport) was completed on 26 August 2005.

 

One year later, in July 2006, a charter route between Kent Manston, and Norfolk, Virginia was announced and was planned to begin service in 2007 but has since been cancelled due to low bookings. It was to be operated by tour operator Cosmos, in combination with Monarch Airlines. Luxembourg based Cargolux started flying for Ghana Airways from Accra to MSE on 17 April 2007.

 

The Kent Escape flights were operated by Sky Wings using an MD-83 until August. The Reg of the aircraft was SX-BSW. Seguro then swapped operators due to problems. From 16 August the flights were taken over by Bmi (airline) for a period. At the end of the season flights were operated by Futura, a Spanish based airline using the Boeing 737. Cargo airline DAS Air Cargo has a maintenance hangar at the airport. The resource is used for maintenance on their own aircraft as well as those of World Airways, Gemini Air Cargo and Avient Aviation.

 

Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015