CAPTAIN Winston Thomas MBE thinks big. It may be as a result of his extensive stay in the USA where he held a high profile job and where positivity and opportunities were abound.
Like many successful Welsh ex pats, he eventually heard the call of Wales beckoning him home. He returned with great experience and with high hopes. Hope that Wales had changed as he had. Hope that Wales had embraced the world, the new age, the technology and the opportunities. Sadly, that was not always the case as Captain Thomas found during his lifelong attempts to bring Pembrey Airport into the 21st century. He has worked and campaigned tirelessly to utilise this extraordinary local asset, create employment, training and place Pembrey, Carmarthenshire and Wales firmly on the map and in the sights of world leaders, world class business people.
We spoke to Captain Thomas on Saturday (Nov 14) and he set out his vision for the airport in a Covid-19 world.
It has been a long tough journey for Captain Thomas and he says, “getting the message about the importance of the airport for the future of Carmarthenshire and Wales is a difficult message to get across.”
Royalty, top business men and women and now an astronaut are amongst the many who have visited and subsequently expounded the benefits of a world class local airport on a mainline railway line and close enough to the M4 motorway.
Her Majesty The Queen has visited the airport twice. Prince William has been a regular visitor too. HRH Prince Phillip has been here three times. HRH Prince William has visited Pembrey each month when he was one of the pilots on the Sea King Helicopters in North Wales. Prince Harry visited when he was asked to attend a training event at Castle Martin because he was trained on the Apache helicopter in the United States.
Astronaut, Major Tim Peake was the first British ESA astronaut to visit the International Space Station, launching on a Soyuz rocket on 15 December 2015 with crew-mates Tim Kopra and Yuri Malenchenko.
Captain Thomas said that Major Peake had visited the airport in August 2020 to train with the Gazelle Helicopter display team. Captain Thomas said: “He (Tim) camped here and he could not believe what was on our doorstep. The golf course, the beach, the railway and this airport. They were so impressed that they are going to be coming back next year and possibly using the airport as a training base. The Ravens Display Team met up with them and they did some joint flying. Tim is a very down to Earth man, not snobbish at all. We had a great chat about many different things including his mission in space.”
Captain Thomas told us that he had concerns about the present situation with freight being delayed especially when it comes to medical supplies. He said: “Freight lorries are lining up in 18 mile long queues waiting to get across to Europe he said. The goods in those vehicles are often perishable and with medical equipment time is of the essence. The government must look towards utilising air freight. There are many benefits. It lessens those queues and the number of lorries churning out CO2. It gets the good to their destination quicker and it provides great opportunities for local employment.”
The creation of additional customs protocols at the Port of Dover could see queues up to 7,000 vehicles long
Mike Hill, director of group freight at Air Partner commented recently:
The UK leaving the Brexit transition period will undoubtedly lead to significant supply chain problems and therefore an increased need for air freight
Captain Thomas says that he is in negotiations with the company that built the Heathrow cargo area and that his plans include building an Air Freight company at Pembrey Airport.
This is not pie in the sky according to Captain Thomas who said: “It is perfectly sensible and possible given the governments decision and our decision to leave Europe. The British Government have great concerns about freight going by road to Europe. More should go by air freight.”
Air transport is an important driver for economic development. It connects Wales to the global economy which facilitates inward investment
The FTA also commented: “As the body representing the interests of the logistics industry, FTA would like to see the government adopt a more ambitious stance to grow global trade; for example, by liberalising visa requirements for travelling business passengers. And while a third runway at Heathrow Airport is an essential step forward, FTA also needs to see freight growth at all other UK airports, for example by providing clearer direction to planning authorities that they should support industry to make best use of capacity. Failure to provide suitable freight capabilities will only mean bleak prospects for British businesses seeking new global markets.”
Pembrey Airport already provides services to a number of aviation companies.
Asked how realistic it could be that Pembrey could be used for freight in the near future Captain Thomas said: “There is a need to utilise local airports. A lot of military airports have closed down. We have a unique geographic location here next to a mainline railway line and close to a motorway. We are a stone’s throw from Ireland. Air freight will be important as we move into a Europe post Brexit. If we want to be taken seriously and compete in the world we must make better use of the facilities we have.”