WINSTON Thomas is a familiar figure at the local airfield in Pembrey. Over the years many thousands of light aircraft and military planes have used the facilities, which to all intensive purposes lay hidden just off the main Llanelli to Kidwelly road.
Winston travelled to Buckingham Palace to receive the MBE from Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on October 11th 2017.
Winston M Thomas was born in Machynys, Llanelli in 1937. He demonstrated an aptitude for engineering and invention from a young age and went on to balance a family life and a career in aviation with a spell in the army. He worked hard to improve his engineering skills and founded a successful electronics company. An encounter with an American flying student led to him taking his family to Texas where he founded Celtic Engineering Inc., one of the mainstays of telecommunication services in the United States over the past two decades. Celtic serviced telecoms giant MCI Inc and many other companies including Shell Oil, the U.S. Air Force and various U.S. and foreign government agencies during its illustrious career. Winston has been involved in many landmark discoveries including the invention of Email, fibre optic networking, the rewiring of Haiti, helping China to modernise its telecoms systems and returning to his native Wales to develop one of the country’s most respected regional airports at Pembrey in Llanelli.
I met Winston Thomas at Pembrey Airport on a beautiful sunny day under a blue sky, almost as blue as his eyes. He is a modest man given that he owns one of the most valuable assets in Carmarthenshire; Construction of the airport began for the RAF Flying Training Command in 1937. By May 1940, the three tarmac runways had been completed. During World War 2 Pembrey was an active RAF station and was host to the RAF’s Air Gunnery School. The airfield closed in September 1957. Post 1958 part of former RAF Pembrey airfield was turned over to agriculture and part was used as a motor racing circuit leaving only a small length of unused runway and taxiways. On Thursday 22 August 1997 Pembrey was officially opened as a civil airfield and named Pembrey Airport using a single runway with a declared length of 805 metres.
Winston Thomas was the driving force behind the reopening of the airport. I asked him how he came to be the leaseholder of the airport and how he had built it up from scratch. He said “My grandfather came down here from Gloucestershire to develop the steel industry. I created the airport because I was sure my grandfather would have liked me to. I have been in the aviation industry most of my life. I had been living in America and I am still a resident of America. When I came here this place was a tip full of thousands of tyres. It was a real mess. Most of the tyres are now on the racing circuit.
I asked Winston why there had not been any government investment in the airport. He told me, “I stay out of politics; I have enough on my plate developing the airport. There is a major shortage of qualified people in the aviation industry because nobody is doing apprenticeships. We are the only airport in Wales that has never had a grant. I put 5.5 million pounds into this place and 18 hours a day seven days a week hard work. We did six months of pressure washing on the runways. We have put a number of business plans in to the Welsh Assembly and we have never had a penny from anyone.
When asked why he had spent so much of his own time and money on the airport. Winston replied, “I am dedicated to getting this place with the same facilities as the airports in England for the local community. This airport is exceptionally important to the local economy. It is the catalyst to all development. We have people showing interest in the airport from other airports in the U.K. We have 7 miles of beach, horse racing and we are the only airport in the U.K. on a mainline railway apart from Southampton airport.”
When asked if he was disappointed that the local council had not invested in the airport he said, “I have to be strong and not let anything get to me with regards to who is getting money from here or there. This airport is a key to investment in West Wales. We have quite a few people working here mainly on a part time basis. We even have an excellent ex bank manager doing our accounts. It may be in the interests of other people to see this airport fall apart. I am getting on now and I would like to finish the job I started here. My daughters may take it forward after me. I have a lease on the land, which runs out in 30 years but I have the option to renew.”
I asked Wintson if hypothetically he was approached with a buy out or an offer of investment from anyone if he would take it. After all it is a tremendously valuable asset and may be sought after by some. The Pembrey peninsular is known in some circles as Carmarthenshire’s Gold Coast of Business Opportunities.
Winston replied, “We have had people visit the airport and look round. When people like that phone or visit I pass all the information on to my legal department. We follow due diligence and check any company who approach us. If anyone tries to use our name in any business venture or document without our agreement we will take legal action.”
Pembrey Airport Unique Features Points
1 The only airport in Wales on the main railway line to London Paddington
2 The only airport in the Country with 4000 acres of development land which is owned by the Forestry Commission who have stated that portions of this land is available to investors
3 The only airport with 7 Miles of beach
4 One of only three airports in the United Kingdom that can provide Rotas Running refuelling 24/7
5 The airport is ideal situated for MRO Maintenance Repair and Overhaul for large aircraft which can provide training facilities with the local College’s.
6 The airport is in a Micro Climate and does not have snow problems during the winter
7 The original runway length is similar to that Gatwick Airport and can be reinstated with the repositioning of the motor circuit
8 To date the airport has provided the aircraft refuelling and logistics in conjunction with the MOD Pembrey Sands Range 24/7 for the training of 9,400 military pilots and personnel
9 Provided facilities for the last seventeen years for the training of Police officers
10 Pembrey Airport is Ideal located for an Air Fright hub creating 400 jobs. document attached )
11 For the last seventeen years Pembrey Airport has been providing refuelling and logistics 24/7 for the following:- Police, Air Ambulance, Ministry of Defence, including the French, German, and the United States Air Force’s. Western Power, Forestry Commission, the airport is also an approved contractor to the Ministry of Defence
12 South Western Airlines Charter company AOC ( Air Operators Certificate documents and flight operations department completed and reviewed by the Civil Aviation Authority
13 The local Authority,( Carmarthenshire County Council ) will give the Freehold of the land to the Investor as their commitment to the development.
14 Pembrey Airport is a licenced Commercial Airport which was issued in 1998 ( Licence number P836 )