A FIGHT fund has been set up to save Manston airport after a donation from a former Pfizer worker.
At a Save Manston Airport public meeting held at the Winter Gardens today, pharmaceutical program manager Rebecca Baty kicked the fund off with a pledge of cash.
Ms Baty had already paid for the hire of the Winter Gardens hall for the meeting and said she would double that amount to start a fight fund to promote the airport.
The IT expert, who now works for Roche in Basel, Switzerland, said she did it “because I have the money and can.” She went on to challenge members of the audience to also pledge cash.
Many of the several hundred people packing out the hall stood to say they would contribute to the fund.
At the start of the meeting MP Sir Roger Gale revealed that he and fellow MP Laura Sandys had held meetings with a potential buyer for the airport.
He said: “We are now in a very delicate stage of discussion and negotiation which will either succeed or fail. It may become clearer in the next four or five days. Half an hour ago I held in my hand a letter from a significant potential investor, who I am satisfied has the money to make a bid. It hasn’t been made but the money is there.
“I met with Ann Gloag before Easter and I think we reached an understanding that she wants to sell the airport. The buyer must be able to pay, not necessarily the asking price but a realistic price. But it is no use coming back in three months time when someone else has failed so a buyer must also have the money to give the airport a fair wind and give it a couple of years to give it a firm footing.”
Sir Roger was due to attend a further meeting about Manston at 3pm today, another with the airport working group at the House of Commons on Monday and will also meet “an interested party” in London on Tuesday.
Other speakers on the panel were Save Manston Airport interim chairman Keith Churcher, group founder Dan Light, Thanet Ukip leader Roger Latchford, Lib Dem parliamentary hopeful Russ Timpson, Nicholas Reed from Why Not Manston and Wendy Fraser, also from Save Manston Airport.
There were also speakers from TG Aviation, the Hurricane and Spitfire Museum and David Foley, from east Kent’s chamber of commerce.
Ruth Bailey, from Save Manston Airport, handed Sir Roger a 15,211 signature petition which he promised would reach the “right place.”
Among the ideas presented for the survival of the airport was the suggestion that Manston could become an aircraft recycling facility.
Mr Timpson, who previously worked for BAA airport operator, said Manston was the only site in the country with the licence to carry out aircraft breaking.
He said: “ There are 11,000 aircraft with nowhere to go to be recycled because there is no purpose built site. Manston is the only place in the UK with the approvals to do this. A purpose built facility would be a major revenue stream.
“We could be taking planes apart, linking with East Kent College for training and apprenticeships and then, when those people are qualified, they could service operational aircraft.”
Mr Timpson also suggested specialising in aircraft painting and looking at a council owned and run airport like that in Newquay.
Suggestions from the panel, and audience, included public and council ownership of Manston, a new referendum on night flights and backing for a Parkway train station.
Speakers in the crowd included former EU Jet and Air Atlanta worker Gary Easton, who said aircraft breaking skills already exist on the isle, Minster resident Danny Day who said any future 106 agreements must include protection for the Spitfire and the Manston museums and Mr Foley who said the airport could make £1 million a year in profit if run properly.
Thanet council leader Clive Hart defended his position on Manston airport saying he had always supported it. But on the question of night flights he added: "Our manifesto was to support the airport but also to support the residents of Thanet."
He said a cabinet advisory committee was on stand-by to renegotiate the 106 agreement - which bans night flights from the airport - but added: "It would be madness to tell someone running the airport they could have as many night flights as they want, we cannot do that at any environmental cost."