Manston Airport

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Manston Airport
Kent International Airport.png
Manston Airport aerial view.jpg
Airport type Defunct
Owner Lothian Shelf 718 Ltd (Ann Gloag, Chris Musgrave, Trevor Cartner - since 19/9/2014)
Location Manston, Kent
Closed 15 May 2014 (2014-05-15)
Elevation AMSL 178 ft / 54 m
Coordinates 51°20′32″N 001°20′46″E / 51.34222°N 1.34611°E / 51.34222; 1.34611Coordinates: 51°20′32″N 001°20′46″E / 51.34222°N 1.34611°E / 51.34222; 1.34611
EGMH is located in Kent
Airport closed
Direction Length Surface
m ft
10/28 2,748 9,016 Asphalt/Concrete
Statistics (2013)
Movements 17,504
Passengers 40,391
Sources: Statistics from the UK Civil Aviation Authority[1]

Manston Airport (IATA: MSEICAO: EGMH), was branded as Manston, Kent's International Airport; it is located at Manston in the District of Thanet in Kent, England, 11 NM (20 km; 13 mi) north-east of Canterbury. Formerly the site of RAF Manston, it was briefly known as 'London Manston Airport'.[2] The single runway is located about 1-mile (1.6 km) from the coastline at 178 ft (54 m) above sea level and is 2,748 m (9,016 ft) long. When it was operational, it was the sixth longest civilian runway in England (after Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands), and was capable of handling the largest long-haul aircraft. Originally built with three 'lanes' during the war to handle emergencies, the runway was amongst the widest in Europe. Taking into account military facilities, the Manston runway was the 20th longest in the United Kingdom.[3]

After a 45-day staff consultation from 19 March 2014,[4] it was announced on 6 May 2014 that the airport would close.[5] This occurred on 15 May 2014 with the loss of 144 jobs. Since closure, various campaign groups have sought to save the airport, and have petitioned the local council to issue a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO), in conjunction with a private indemnity partner, to re-open the airport. A US based investment group, RiverOak, put forward a plan to re-open the airport, with an initial emphasis on cargo and aircraft recycling operations.[6]



Main article: RAF Manston

At the outset of the First World War, the Isle of Thanet was equipped with a small and precarious landing strip for aircraft at St Mildred's Bay, Westgate, on top of the chalk cliffs, at the foot of which was a promenade which had been used for seaplane operations. The landing grounds atop the cliff soon became the scene of several accidents, with at least one plane failing to stop before the end of the cliffs and tumbling into the sea, which, fortunately for the pilot, had been on its inward tide.

In the winter of 1915–1916, early aircraft began to use the open farmlands at Manston as a site for emergency landings. The Admiralty Aerodrome at Manston was opened in response. A training school, originally set up to instruct pilots in the use of the new Handley Page Type O bombers, was soon established. By the close of 1916 there were already two units stationed at Manston: the Operational War Flight Command and the Handley Page Training School.

Its location near the Kent coast gave Manston some advantages over other aerodromes, and regular additions in men and machinery were soon made, particularly from Detling, in early days. By 1917 the Royal Flying Corps was well established and taking an active part in the defence of England.

Battle of Britain and the Second World War[edit]

In the Second World War, Manston was used as a forward base by many squadrons, due its location close to the frontline , and it was frequently attacked and heavily bombed during the Battle of Britain. Barnes Wallis used the base to test his bouncing bomb on the coast at nearby Reculver prior to the Dambusters raid.[7]

Hawker Typhoon and Gloster Meteor squadrons were based at Manston during the Second World War. On 27 July 1944 RAF 616 Squadron became the first allied jet equipped squadron in the world to become operational, using Meteors to intercept German V-1 flying bombs (aimed at London) over Kent. Manston's position close to the front line and its long and broad three lane runway (built during the war, along with the runways at Woodbridge and Carnaby near Bridlington) meant the airfield was heavily used by badly damaged planes that had suffered from ground fire, collisions, or air attack but retained a degree of airworthiness. The airfield became a "graveyard" for heavy bombers and less-damaged aircraft, offering spare parts for allied aircraft in need of repair. The museums on site display some aerial views dating from this era and the post-war years.

Post-war military and civil use[edit]

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, employed 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 based there. Manston was used as a diversionary airfield for emergency military and civilian landings.

From 1989 Manston became Kent International Airport, and a new terminal was opened by Sarah, Duchess of York. A number of charter flights operated by Dan-Air to Palma (Mallorca) were introduced on Saturdays during the summer season using their BAC One-Eleven. The Yugoslavian carrier Aviogenex operated a number of regular charters to the then-popular beach resorts of the former Yugoslavia on behalf of the now defunct Yugotours.

Kent International Airport was initially a 38 acres (150,000 m2) civilian area within the former RAF Manston that included the existing terminal building and an apron where passengers embarked and the largest freighters were loaded. The runway was not included within this enclave. In 1988 the owners of Kent International Airport negotiated a 125-year legal agreement with the RAF obliging the Air Force to maintain the runway and to provide air traffic control and ongoing emergency services. The cost of providing runway maintenance, air traffic control, and Fire and Rescue services had been estimated at up to £3m per annum by the Ministry of Defence.

Sale and commercial operations[edit]

After an absence of regular charter services, Aspro Holidays operated a series of summer charter services during the 1992–93 summer season with its in-house airline Inter European Airways to Palma (Mallorca) and added a service to Heraklion (Crete), which was often operated using their larger Boeing 757 airliner. When Aspro Holidays was taken over by the Airtours Holiday group, the flights ceased. The early 1990s also saw weekly flights to Larnaca (Cyprus) by Cypriana Holidays, with Eurocypria operating the inbound flight via Norwich as a split load. The service continued for approximately two summer seasons before Cypriana Holidays went into administration.

Manston was by now becoming known as a commercial airport. A 1993 report from the Department of Trade and Industry examined runway capacity in South East England and found Manston unsuitable for development as a major airport because of its proximity to the town. Nevertheless, in 1998, Thanet District Council produced the Isle of Thanet local plan, which recognised the economic development potential of abandoned sections of the old military airfield, particularly on its north-western edge.

After the plan was published, the Ministry of Defence announced its intention to sell off RAF Manston. A ruling by the British Labour Government's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown – instructing government departments to generate money through the sale of surplus assets, following the example of the Thatcher government – led to the Ministry of Defence putting the site up for sale.

After the RAF left, local MP Dr. Stephen Ladyman opposed the decision to sell the base to property developer Wiggins Group PLC. The RAF faced a compensation claim of £50–100 million if they then closed the base and terminated their earlier agreement with Kent International Airport. The ministry sold the site at the end of March 1999 for £4.75m to the Wiggins Group, who inherited the legal agreement obliging the RAF to continue maintenance of the airfield. Within six months, the RAF announced that they were leaving the airfield.

The airfield today comprises 700 acres (2.8 km2).

Expansion 2000–2010[edit]

Fokker 100 of EUjet on arrival from Manchester on 31 March 2005

In December 2003 the government issued a White Paper on "The Future of Air Transport", which stated that Manston "could play a valuable role in meeting local demand and could contribute to regional economic development." The government would support development in principle, "subject to relevant environmental considerations".[8]

Rapid development began in 2004 in an attempt to make it a budget airline hub. Irish airline EUjet, formed in 2002, began scheduled flights in September 2004 to destinations such as Manchester, Edinburgh, and Dublin with a small fleet of Fokker 100 airliners. Car parking areas were built and a direct coach service from Bluewater via Chatham was instituted to support this enterprise, which followed the low fare, no-frills, web-marketing style pioneered by Ryanair in the UK.

On 26 July 2005 all EUjet operations were suspended, along with all non-freight operations at the airport, owing to financial difficulties with the airport and airline's owner, PlaneStation. Their business plan was ambitious and their bankers had lost patience, causing both businesses to fail and leaving many passengers stranded abroad. London Manston Airport plc went into liquidation. Operations were temporarily suspended, along with Manston's air traffic zone and radar services, until a new buyer could be found.

The sale of Manston to Infratil, a company based in Wellington, New Zealand and owner of Glasgow Prestwick Airport, was completed on 26 August 2005.[9] In July 2006 a charter route between Manston and Norfolk, Virginia, was announced: it was cancelled prior to commencement because of low bookings. It was to be operated by tour operator Cosmos in conjunction with Monarch Airlines.

Luxembourg based Cargolux started flying for Ghana Airways from Accra to Kent International on 17 April 2007.

Charter flights were operated from Manston by Seguro Travel Limited, operating as "Kent Escapes". The 2007 Kent Escapes flights were operated by Sky Wings using a McDonnell Douglas MD-80. Seguro then swapped operators on 16 August because of problems. The flights were taken over by BMI for a period. At the end of the season, flights were operated by Futura, a Spanish-based airline, using the Boeing 737.[10] Futura Airlines ceased trading during September 2008 and Seguro Travel on 10 September 2008.[11]

View across part of the airport

On 15 February 2010, airport CEO Matt Clarke and Flybe Head of Public Relations and Public Affairs Niall Duffy announced a daily service operated by Flybe from Manston to Edinburgh, Kirkwall, and Sumburgh, Belfast, and Manchester. The services were the first daily scheduled routes at Manston since the collapse of EUjet in 2005. Dash-8Q400 aircraft were used. Air Southwest announced seasonal charter services to Jersey every Saturday using Dash-8 aircraft. The Flybe services to Kirkwall and Sumburgh were operated by the once-daily flight to Edinburgh and then by Loganair to the onward destinations.

Departures were offered during summer 2011 to Funchal (Madeira) with specialist operator Atlantic Holidays, operated by UK charter airline Monarch Airlines but have since been discontinued.

Newmarket Holidays continued to offer irregular charter flights during the summer months to Verona and Naples in Italy, as well as Porto in Portugal using the Lithuanian charter airline Small Planet Airlines for the summer 2013 season.

Iran Air used Manston as a fuel stop for flight 710 from Heathrow to Tehran due to fuel disputes in London, until 1 December 2011.[12]

Final years[edit]

On 22 December 2011 Flybe spokesman Niall Duffy announced that all services operated by Flybe would cease from Manston Airport by 25 March 2012.[13]

On 8 March 2012 Infratil announced they would dispose of their European airport operations, placing Kent International and Glasgow-Prestwick Airports up for sale.[14] Manston and Prestwick had been running at a loss and in May 2011 Infratil's annual report showed that losses from its European airports grew from £9 million to £11 million in 2010.[15]

On 31 July 2012 a pressure group Why Not Manston? was formed, aiming to support the greater use of Manston airport.

On 14 November 2012, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced double daily flights from Manston to Amsterdam, with onwards connections to the rest of KLM's network. The first flight was with a Fokker 70 on 2 April 2013.

A British Airways Airbus A380 undergoing crew training at Manston

From July 2013, British Airways has operated test flights and crew training for the Airbus A380 from Manston,[16] which was followed by a similar exercise for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.[17]

On 15 October 2013, Infratil announced they would sell the airport to a company wholly owned by Ann Gloag, co-founder of Stagecoach Group. Manston Skyport Ltd took over running the airport on 29 November 2013.[18]

On 19 March 2014, it was announced that a 45-day consultation period into the closure of the airport had begun. Daily losses were said to be £10,000.[19] The airport's chief executive announced that the airport could close on 9 April 2014,[20] and on 25 March 2014 KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced the end of their flights to Amsterdam by 10 April,[21] and Manston's last scheduled flight departed for Amsterdam on 9 April 2014.

On 12 April 2014, Newmarket Holidays said its Verona and Naples seasonal charter flights would move to Lydd Airport.

On 6 May 2014 the closure of the airport was announced, which duly occurred on 15 May 2014.[5]

Local Community[edit]

There has been a campaign to re-open the airport since closure. The current owners have said that the site should be redeveloped and have no plans to reopen the airport. An American private equity group, RiverOak Investments, wishes to acquire the site and reopen the airport, with an initial emphasis on cargo and recycling of aircraft. This would require the local Council to use a Compulsory Purchase Order, with RiverOak as 'indemnity partner' covering the costs incurred. In a report to Cabinet on 11 December 2014, the Labour controlled cabinet of the council decided not to proceed with a CPO at the present time.[22] As of 26 February 2015, the situation was being reviewed by the UK government Department for Transport.

Airline operations prior to closure[edit]

Prior to 10 April 2014, there was one cargo service and one passenger service (KLM to Amsterdam) operating from Manston. Cargo flights before closure were operated by Cargolux to Johannesburg, Luxembourg, Maastricht and Nairobi; and by Saudia Cargo to Amsterdam, Dammam, Jeddah, Johannesburg and Nairobi.

Non-passenger operations[edit]

Two museums, the RAF Manston History Museum and the Spitfire and Hurricane memorial, are located on the northern edge of the airfield.

The large hangar was originally built and used by Invicta International Airlines; between 1987 and 2004 Modern Jet Support Centre Ltd used it for Boeing 707 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10 servicing, before entering administration; between 2006 and early 2009 it was used by airline DAS Air Cargo (who were taken over by Continental Aviation Services in November 2007) to maintain their aircraft as well as those of World Airways, Omni Air International, Gemini Air Cargo, and Avient Aviation, before entering administration. AvMan Engineering Ltd took over the hangar in 2009, and have CAA approval to work on BAe-146 and their ALF502 / LF507 engines.

A helicopter business remains operational, located immediately outside of the airport curtilage.[23]

A second helicopter business (Polar helicopters) remains operational on the airfield and provides a radio service for overflying aircraft [24]

Search and rescue base[edit]

A Sea King HAR.3 of 202 RAF Squadron, who operated this type of aircraft from RAF Manston between 1998 and 1994

RAF Manston was home to a helicopter search and rescue (SAR) flight from No. 22 Squadron RAF from 1961, operating Westland Whirlwind HAR.2/HAR.10 aircraft. The flight was withdrawn in 1969, but the outcry led to the RAF contracting Bristow Helicopters from 1971 to 1974 to provide a continued service (using Whirlwhind Series 3's). In 1972, the Bristow crew was awarded the "Wreck Shield" for "Most Meritorious Rescue in 1972" by the Department of Trade and Industry.[25]

In 1974, the RAF returned, with No. 72 Squadron RAF operating two Westland Wessex HC.2 aircraft to replace the Bristow cover. The flight was transferred back to No. 22 Squardron in June 1976. In 1988 No. 202 Squadron RAF moved to Manston with their Westland Sea King HAR.3, with the Wessex aircraft moving to RAF Coltishall. The Sea King's remained at Manston until July 1994, when SAR activity at the base was halted, and SAR cover for the channel relocated to RAF Wattisham.[25][26]

It has been announced that Manston will be one of the chosen locations for the new UK SAR contract, operated by Bristow Helicopters on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, replacing all current Royal Air Force and Royal Navy SAR operations.[27]

Manston was intended to have a new £7 million, custom built facility for this operation,[28] hosting two new AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters.[29] The new base was due to be operational from April 2015, with a ten year contract awarded.[30] These plans were cancelled after the airport's closure was announced[31]


Manston has one runway (two designated runway directions, 10 and 28),[32] the flight path of one passing over Ramsgate, a seaside resort of some 40,000 residents. The town is situated about 1 km (0.62 mi) from the eastern end of the runway. To one side of the runway lies the village of Cliffsend, whose housing is less than 200 m (660 ft) from it. Manston village stands to the north-east of the passenger terminal.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On 18 September 1948 a RAF de Havilland Mosquito crashed during an air show at RAF Manston, killing both crew and ten members of the public.[33][34]
  • On 11 August 2010 a Douglas DC-8-63F YA-VIC of Kam Air suffered a tailstrike on take-off, destroying an approach light.[35] The aircraft was operating an international cargo flight from Manston to Buenos Aires via the Cape Verde Islands. The incident was caused by excess fuel making the aircraft 25,700 pounds (11,700 kg) overweight. After being informed of the tailstrike, the crew continued the flight to the Cape Verde Islands. Inspection on arrival revealed that a tailstrike had indeed occurred, although the tailstrike indicator was within limits. The incident was investigated by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, which made four safety recommendations. As a direct result, Kam Air was banned from operating within the European Union. The three crew were dismissed, and Kam Air announced that it would withdraw its two DC-8s from service.[36]
  • On 15 May 2014, the airfield's final day of operation, a light aircraft carrying the actor Cliff Parisi was forced to make an emergency landing at Manston because of a technical problem.[37]

In popular culture[edit]

The airport and runway were used for the making of the James Bond film Die Another Day in 2001, when the airport was transformed into a North Korean airbase.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ London Manston Airport shown on an Ordnance Survey map from 2005
  3. ^ Airports in United Kingdom
  4. ^ "Manston Airport holds consultation over possible closure". BBC News. 19 March 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ Aircraft of World War II
  8. ^ UK Department for Transport, The Future of Air Transport White Paper, (Dec 2003), paragraph 11.99.
  9. ^ Done, Kevin (25 August 2005). "Infratil to buy Manston Airport from administrator". Financial Times. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  10. ^ Holiday company terminates Sky Wings contract[dead link]
  11. ^ Statement from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)[dead link]
  12. ^ "Manston airport stops refuelling Iran Air flights". BBC News. 1 December 2011. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "Flybe to stop using Manston Airport". BBC News. 22 December 2011. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  14. ^ "Manston Airport to be sold". 8 March 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  15. ^ Bradley, Grant (18 May 2011). "Infratil revs up earnings after Shell acquisition". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ "BA to fly from Kent Airport". 18 June 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Manston airport closure plans put scores of jobs at risk". The Guardian. 18 March 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  20. ^ "Manston Airport 'could close within three weeks'". BBC News. 21 March 2014. 
  21. ^ "Manston Airport purchase-offer letter sent to owner". BBC News. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  22. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ . Heli Charter UK Retrieved 30 July 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^
  25. ^ a b "22 Squadron History". Royal Air Force. 
  26. ^ "Search and rescue helicopters to take off from Manston Airport". Kent Messenger. 2013-03-26. 
  27. ^ "All change ofr search and rescue in a year". Northumberland Gazette. 2014-05-01. 
  28. ^ "Our locations". Bristow SAR. 
  29. ^ "Bristow UK SAR Helicopter Coverage Map". Bristow SAR. 
  30. ^ "Bristow Group to take over UK search and rescue from RAF". BBC News. 2013-03-26. 
  31. ^ "Manston loses search and rescue service". BBC. 
  32. ^
  33. ^ "12 Killed at Air Display" The Times (London). Monday, 20 September 1948. (51181), col F, p. 4.
  34. ^ Ingleton, Roy (2010). Kent Disasters. Barnsley: Pen & Sword. pp. 117–19. 
  35. ^ Hradecky, Simon (12 May 2011). "Report: Kam Air DC86 at Manston on Aug 11th 2010, tail strike on takeoff". The Aviation Herald. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  36. ^ "YA-VIC". Air Accidents Investigation Branch. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  37. ^ Chris Price, "Manston airport: EastEnders star Cliff Parisi in emergency landing as staff prepare to say goodbye as Kent airport to close for final time", Kent Online, 15 May 2014
  38. ^ McGhie, Tom (1 November 2009). "Boost for Kent International Airport". This is Money. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 

External links[edit]