The sale of Cardiff airport to the Welsh government for £52 million was agreed yesterday.

The purchase followed a period of due diligence and negotiation with TBI, the airport’s previous owner.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Cardiff airport is a vital gateway to Wales for business, tourists and general travellers alike. It is essential that its future is secured and that we develop high quality sustainable services.”

He added: “The airport will not be operated by the Welsh government. It will be managed at arm’s length from government on a commercial basis and, over time, I expect to see a return to the public purse on the investment.

“A chief executive of the airport will be announced in due course.”

Welsh economy, science and transport minister Edwina Hart said: “The airport is a major piece of economic infra-structure for Wales. I look forward to working in partnership with the workforce at the airport as we develop a high quality service for passengers and create a facility of which Wales can be proud.”

Figures showed just over one million passengers used Cardiff last year, down about 200,000 in 12 months.

Bristol airport chief executive Robert Sinclair told the BBC he was sceptical that government involvement would be “arm’s length”.

“The purchase price of £52 million paid by the Welsh government – which is well above market value when compared to recent transactions involving UK airports – gives us concern that ongoing government involvement and support is highly likely,” he said.

“Airports across the world are commercial businesses operating in highly competitive markets and the global trend is towards privatisation of these assets, not nationalisation.

“Bristol airport has never been concerned about competition from Cardiff or other airports, provided that competition is on a level playing field without any form of state subsidy or government support.”