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Not Surpising  19th February 2015


Manston Search and Rescue “Neither news nor surprising”

North Thanet`s MP Sir Roger Gale has described as “neither news nor surprising” the contents of a Department of Transport letter sent to the Chairman of the former Kent International Airport Consultative Committee in response to an inquiry.

“All of the major players with an interest in Manston Airport were aware, last summer, that Bristow`s were faced with a dilemma over the future location of Search and Rescue (SAR) in the wake of the Manston closure” says the MP. “ Bristow`s had certainly hoped to re-locate the Dover Straits SAR to Manston following the cessation of the facility at RAF Wattisham but the closure of the airport inevitably led to a reconsideration. We had all hoped that a decision might be taken by TDC to commence CPO proceedings last autumn but that proved not to be the case.

Bristow`s are now faced with a contractual responsibility to commence SAR services from the South East in the early summer and they have to make a decision about, at least in the short-term, where their aircraft will operate from. Had TDC commenced CPO proceedings in September or had the owner of the airport done a deal with the SAR operator then we might have been able to maintain the service at Manston but it would be grossly irresponsible, dangerous and potentially life-threatening to leave the busiest sea lane in the world without Search and Rescue cover. In his letter to KIACC the Minister has not indicated any final decision and has made it clear that he wants the door kept open so that SAR can return to its preferred base at Manston as and when the airfield is fully operational again. That is an undertaking that I accept in good faith.

It is also ludicrous to suggest, as has been reported, that the future of SAR is “a hammer blow” to the future of aviation at Manston. Disappointing, certainly, but SAR was never a part of RiverOak`s business plan and is not pivotal to the operation of Manston as a successful freight hub, and subsequently passenger airport, again.

Neither is there any significance in the fact that SAR was not discussed when the Minister for Aviation visited Thanet last week. The issue was not on the agenda and it was not raised either by the Leader of the Council or by me.

I remain determined to co-operate with all who wish to work, on a non party-political basis, to see planes flying from Manston again as soon as possible and I know that we have the backing of the Government in our desire to achieve that objective. I am not interested in political point-scoring and I do not believe that the people of East Kent will thank anyone who seeks to play party-political or media games with what we regard as a national and a local asset. “


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