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Big hitter joins battle to save Plymouth airport

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 08, 2013

  • Andy Byford has links to Plymouth

  • Viable Plymouth Ltd is campaigning to reopen Plymouth City Airport, above

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The head of one of North America's biggest transport systems has been appointed to the board of the company fighting to reopen Plymouth's airport – saying the facility is vital to the future of the city.

Andy Byford, chief executive of the Toronto Transit Commission, in Canada, has become a non-executive director of Viable Plymouth Ltd and said: "It's inconceivable Plymouth does not have an airport – it's essential to the future wellbeing of the city.

"The airport is an employment generator, it attracts inward investment. It will be madness to let the facility slip away."

Mr Byford, who runs an enormous transport network involving overground and underground trains, trams and 2,000 buses, said he will be on hand to offer advice and expertise to Viable, which wants to reopen Plymouth City Airport and restart flights.

"I have 25 years experience in transit and customer service – that's relevant," he said.

"Running a major transit network is not dissimilar, the logistics are the same. That's what I bring to the table."

The Viable company was formed by people unhappy with Sutton Harbour Holdings decision to close the 104-acre aerodrome in December 2011.

Viable formed a business plan and made Plymouth City Council "a formal offer" to acquire the freehold of the Roborough site.

But the 150-year lease is still held by SHH, which closed the airport saying not enough people used it to make it a financial proposition.

"We should be looking to get the airport reopened with a base model and take it from there," Mr Byford said. "If we can show there is a fast, reasonable cost, and high customer service alternative, I think people will use that airport," he added, but said: "In terms of the financial model I can't comment.

"The runway could be extended to facilitate larger aircraft – but get it opened first."

Mr Byford grew up in Newton Ferrers and went to school in Ivybridge before climbing the corporate ladder.

He held senior positions in the London Underground, with two UK train operating companies, and was chief operating officer at RailCorp in Australia.

He is now in charge of the third largest transit system in North America, with 500million passengers per year, in Toronto, a city with two airports.

He still has a flat in Plymouth and intends to return to the city to live one day. He's also a Plymouth Argyle season ticket holder and was most recently at Home Park for the Boxing Day clash with Torquay United.

Mr Byford used the city's airlink regularly, and joined Viable more than a year ago.

He has met Viable chairman Raoul Witherall, who offered the non-executive role.

He said Exeter Airport is not an alternative because that city would be in competition with Plymouth to attract business, and rail and road improvements are a long-term proposition.

"The airport is a strategic asset for Plymouth," he said. "In the short term it's the only show in town. I can't imagine any other city letting an airport drift away. We'd be crazy to do that."

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