Developer plans to launch international airport in Kent

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The Independent Online
Plans emerged yesterday for a new cut-price European air service, aimed at taking on airlines such as EasyJet and Debonair. Andrew Yates looks at an ambitious plan to transform a disused airbase in Kent into an international transport hub.

Wiggins, the property developer, is planning to create its new airline business at Manston airport, near Margate. It has already embarked upon a pounds 1bn redevelopment of the site which could bring more than 10,000 jobs to the area.

Manston is the RAF base where Barnes Wallace developed the famous bouncing bomb during the Second World War. However, it has hardly been used over the last 15 years and Wiggins bought the lease to the airport terminal and adjoining 40 acres of land last July.

In the process it acquired the sole rights to fly civilian aircraft into the airport. Now the Ministry of Defence has put the whole of the airport up for sale and it emerged yesterday that Wiggins is the frontrunner to buy the complex.

Oliver Iny, Wiggins chief executive, does not plan to stop there. "We want to create a network of European airports. We have already held serious talks with a number of people and hope to sign up six airports within the next six months," he said yesterday.

Wiggins is already in talks with several major tour operators, including Thomson, about establishing cheap flights to the Continent and hopes to attract freight operators to the airport. "The new breed of cheap airline groups have hardly scratched the surface of the potential market. We have partners with deep pockets," Mr Iny said.

Those partners include Siemens and Thomson-ASF, the German and French electronic giants, which will help finance, equip and run the airports.

Wiggins' big ambitions are not restricted to Europe. Mr Iny has recently travelled to the US and is in talks with operators about acquiring regional airports over there.

Wiggins already owns 400 acres next to the airport complex, where it is constructing a huge business park. Cummins, the US diesel engineer, has set up a new factory on the land and several more tenants are close to signing up. Wiggins is in the process of landscaping the new site by building new roads, two huge lakes and planting hundreds of chestnut trees.

Separately, Wiggins said it was pursuing an pounds 8m legal claim against Brent Council. It claims the north London borough has frustrated its attempt to build a leisure complex at the site of an old swimming pool at Kingsbury, near Wembley.

Wiggins has also submitted a planning application to create a large leisure complex in Liverpool.

Wiggins announced that pre-tax profits more than doubled to pounds 1.1m in the six months to September. Its shares rose 0.25p to 12.5p.