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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Air charter takes off
Mann Air aeroplane
The company hopes to attract more business to the area

A controversial scheme to convert a former airfield into a base for an air charter service is finally up and flying.

Mann Air Charter is operating a four plane fleet at Aberporth in Ceredigion carrying up to nine passengers on each plane to destinations throughout the UK and northern Europe.

The project was given the go-ahead by Ceredigion planners last February after a bitter debate between supporters and opponents of the scheme.

Hundreds of local people attended a meeting to discuss the pros and cons of the scheme last September.

The service will give west Wales far more accessibility to both business and private users
Ray Mann

Apart from the air charter service, organisations including the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) hope to develop another part of the airfield by building a technology park to attract other businesses to the site.

The WDA believes that the whole project provides the capacity for about 230 jobs in the short term.

The area was hit hard in July 2002 when the Ministry of Defence announced that 147 jobs would be axed as part of a defence facility shake-up at the testing base there.

Ray Mann, chief executive of Mann Air, said the company was now ready to provide air travel on demand although no scheduled services were available at present.

Flight training

"The service will give west Wales far more accessibility to both business and private users," added Mr Mann.

"It is also a facility for the local community and Mann Air can help residents and existing businesses in the area reach cities and airports more quickly, more simply and at prices comparable to scheduled flights."

The Mann organisation also operates a flight training school at Aberporth.

Road congestion, failing rail networks and increasingly long delays at major airports due to security screening is making private air charter a logical option, according to Mann Air.

Aberporth airfield
The airfield development could include a technology park

The company also claims that it can use smaller, local airports so people can be flown closer to their ultimate destinations, saving time and money once on the ground.

Allan Lewis of Ceredigion County Council's economic development department said Mann Air was the sort of springboard to accessibility the area had been looking for.

"The availability of this type of aviation service is the first step in the plan to create business opportunities that will greatly invigorate the local economy," he added.

"Business groups are expected to visit west Wales for both business and pleasure using the new charter facilities.

"But the service also opens up the prospect of attracting private individuals and groups for sporting and social events in and out of the region."

But Aberporth resident, Robin Logan-Reid, who is a member of a group opposing the development is sceptical about the success of the project.

"We're pretty cynical about the prospect of a technology park and believe the whole scheme is a bit of a white elephant," said Mr Logan-Reid.

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