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Business whizz-kid plans 'virtual airline' charters

By Isle of Thanet Gazette  |  Posted: April 04, 2014

HIGH FLYER: Entrepreneur Jospeh Hayat wants to run charter flights from Manston

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UNION reps at Manston have revealed there are three interested parties could yet make offers for the airport.

A consortium, which held talks with Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale, submitted a formal offer for the airport last Thursday, before withdrawing the bid on Wednesday morning.

Now, following a meeting with Manston management, officers from the Unite trade union say there could be as many as three further bids for the airport.

Unite regional officer Ian McCoulough said: "There are three bids in the wings, but no firm offer has been made yet.

"Unite is not very happy with the progress of the consultation, because we think this is being done with inordinate haste.

"We think that the 45-day consultation has been forced through, we're very concerned about the speed of it, and we have formally requested an extension of this period.

"Some of the members of staff have put their heads together and come up with a series of ideas to save the airport by increasing business and profits.

"The airport should take some time to look at the ideas from staff, and we are asking the company to explore these options."

An e-mail sent by airport chief executive Charles Buchanan, in the week owner Ann Gloag announced plans to close Manston, said that the airport might close on Wednesday, April 8.

Mrs Gloag, who bought the airport for a nominal £1 plus debts, is the businesswoman behind other businesses such as the Stagecoach bus company.

Even though time is fast running out to save the airport, one entrepreneur says he is interested in operating a "virtual airline", offering charter flights between Manston and Amsterdam.

Joseph Hayat, 20, was dubbed the "world's youngest airline boss" after he founded air charter firm HiAir in 2010, and planned to run flights between Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster and Amsterdam in Holland.

The young businessman resigned as a director of HiAir in November 2011, citing a lack of capital offered by investors, but now wants to charter a new service to the Netherlands from Manston.

Mr Hayat said: "What I think is very commendable is the local support for the airport. You have groups like Why Not Manston and the work of local MPs – I would like to become part of that.

"Raising capital to operate a new service is much more do-able than trying to buy an airport. If you outsource some of the services the start-up costs are virtually minimal.

"This is not something I'm promising to do on my own, it would have to be a community enterprise, but that's not something that is hard to do.

"On the basis that I have a response from the airport and support from the local MPs, this is something we can achieve. If the public want this I will hold an emergency meeting next week."

Mr Hayat claims he visited Manston in March 2011 to discuss a potential route to Amsterdam with airport chief Charles Buchanan, more than a year before the KLM service to the Dutch capital began.

A virtual airline slims down as many operational functions as it can, while still maintaining control of its core business.

It is common practice for such a firm to outsource many services, in order to charter flights for as little money as possible.

Aircraft leasing, baggage handling, ticket sales and maintenance services are all usually outsourced under a virtual airline model.

Despite the turmoil, Manston's largest cargo operator, Cargolux, is still reportedly committed to the airport.

Unless a buyer is found, the last commercial passenger flight to land at Manston is likely to be KLM's 8.40pm arrival from Amsterdam on April 8.

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