UK Regional Airports join Forces As Blackpool Fights For Survival
After years of losses, Blackpool Airport has only days to find a buyer if it is not to join the growing numbers of the UK’s smaller Airports that have been forced to close.
Although the country’s smaller Regional Airports generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds in economic activity for their local economies, many are struggling or have shut down in the years since the financial crisis. Balfour Beatty, which owns Blackpool airport, has been trying to sell it since August and has made losses on it for several years.
Manston, in Kent, which shut in May, and Bristol Filton, which closed in December 2012, were both sold to property developers, while Plymouth City was closed in December 2011. Last year the Scottish government had to step in to buy Glasgow Prestwick for £1, following the example of the Welsh government, which took Cardiff into public hands in March 2013.
In response to the tough climate, a number of the smaller operators are banding together to form the Regional and Business Airport Group, to make the case for regional airports. Its members include Exeter, Norwich, Southend, Newquay, Durham and Blackpool.
John Spooner, head of Regional and City Airports Management which operates Blackpool said the government had to offer more support. The government should recognise that small airports serve a vital role in their policy of rebalancing the economy and if they’re going to serve the less well connected regions they are going to need some breaks.The cost of regulation and Air passenger duty tax weighed heavily on the smaller locations, he added.
Regional airports have suffered as airlines have focused on a few bigger airports such as Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Owners who often bought when demand from passengers was forecast to grow exponentially have ended up with heavy losses.
In 2007, a number of UK airports with fewer than 1m passengers annually saw declines of 40 per cent or more in the next five years, compared with an overall UK drop of 8.1 per cent.
You need half a million to a million passengers a year to service an Airport, said David Bentley, an analyst at the Centre for Aviation in Manchester. Regional Airports have been left competing for low cost carriers, who can drive down their fees. Over 40 per cent of Airports in Europe do not make a profit.
In response to their predicament, many Airports have tried to diversify and create new streams of revenue, often through new uses of land on their site, such as creating business parks. Newquay in Cornwall looked in danger last year when Flybe announced it was stopping its daily London Gatwick service. The government stepped in to subsidise the route and has helped to fund a £6m industrial park development.
Southend has turned around its long term decline and expanded. Owned by the Stobart group haulage company, it has attracted easyJet and also operates a freight business. The entrepreneur Sir Peter Rigby has been a supporter of regional airports, buying Coventry, Exeter and Norwich.
But others remain in difficulty. Peel Group, the property business which owns three airports including Liverpool John Lennon, this year bought back a majority stake in LJLA from the operator of Vancouver airport in Canada for £1.
Liverpool had been one of the fastest growing airports in the 2000s but has been hit by Manchester’s success in luring back budget carrier Ryanair. Passenger numbers have fallen from 5.2m in 2007 to 4.3m in 2013. Peel is not actively marketing the airport but would be open to offers, one person close to the group said.
Mr Spooner said Blackpool might survive if it could attract flights that could not get popular slots at Manchester. “Aviation has had one of the toughest periods it has encountered and Blackpool has had a history of passenger numbers growing and falling.said Mr Spooner. It’s too early to say it’s the end of Blackpool airport.
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