By Cemlyn Davies
BBC Wales governmental reporter
The Welsh authorities could person considered selling Cardiff Airport were it not for the pandemic, according to the country's erstwhile system minister.
Ken Skates' comments travel 10 years aft the authorities bought the airdrome for £52m.
Conservatives said ministers lacked the "business acumen" to marque it a success.
The authorities said it had "put successful spot a betterment bundle designed to marque Cardiff Airport self-sustainable and profitable for the future".
It bought Cardiff Airport successful March 2013 to "secure its future" pursuing a slump successful rider numbers.
After peaking astatine 2.1 cardinal successful 2007, the fig of radical travelling from the airdrome had fallen to 1 cardinal by 2012.
But the 10 years since the government's takeover person been turbulent, with affirmative steps guardant being undermined by important setbacks, including the Covid pandemic.
Several airlines person besides ceased operations astatine the airport, with WizzAir announcing earlier this twelvemonth it was pulling out.
In the years aft the Welsh government's takeover, rider numbers grew to 1.7 cardinal earlier Covid hit, "wiping out" the airport.
Last twelvemonth the airdrome had less than 860,000 passengers.
Now a backbench Labour MS, Ken Skates was the authorities curate liable for the airdrome betwixt 2016-2021.
"I'm successful nary uncertainty had Covid not happened we would person passed 2 cardinal passengers per twelvemonth by present and beryllium precise competitory with different airports," helium told the BBC's Politics Wales programme.
Asked if that meant the authorities would person been capable to see selling the airdrome to recoup wealth for the taxpayer, helium said: "Yes, I bash judge that's the case."
However helium added that successful those circumstances helium "would person been arguing for the retention of the airdrome successful nationalist ownership".
"If you person specified an plus making wealth for the nationalist past it stands to crushed that you would not privation to merchantability it off," helium said.
Since the purchase, ministers person invested an further £158m successful the airport, with much successful the pipeline.
The airdrome is presently valued astatine about £15m.
The Welsh Conservatives' spokeswoman connected transport, Natasha Asghar, accused the Welsh authorities of "frittering taxpayers' money".
Asked what the Welsh authorities should do, she said: "One-hundred per cent, merchantability the airport, privatise it, get a bully purchaser in.
"I conscionable don't deliberation that this Welsh authorities has the concern acumen to marque it a success."
Travel writer Simon Calder told the programme it had been a "heck of a struggle" to find a viable concern program for Cardiff Airport, and the reply was to physique a caller airdrome successful a antithetic location.
"As a nation, Wales needs an planetary airdrome and Cardiff is the evident spot to enactment it.
"But I'm precise atrocious that the existent determination is not sustainable astatine all, and thing with bully obstruction and roadworthy links, possibly betwixt Cardiff and Newport, would beryllium the solution.
"That would perfectly alteration aviation successful the nation."
Prof Mark Barry, from Cardiff University, said helium agreed with Mr Skates' appraisal of the airport's prospects earlier the pandemic, but that post-Covid the satellite was "different".
"We person a clime exigency truthful we person to trim flying and lone enactment the benignant of flying that's much economically necessary, truthful that's mean and longer haul flights," helium said.
"So that doesn't truly enactment for Cardiff Airport, which is overmuch much focused connected shorter haul.
"So the prime Welsh authorities has got is: 'do we proceed to subsidise it oregon bash we judge it volition astir apt close?'"
What bash Welsh ministers say?
A Welsh authorities spokesperson said: "Since the pandemic, request for aerial question crossed the satellite has fallen.
"Despite this, and the downturn successful the UK economy, we are committed to maintaining an airdrome successful Wales.
"We person enactment successful spot a betterment bundle designed to marque Cardiff Airport self-sustainable and profitable for the future."