Plymouth airport closure a sign of things to come

A small, friendly and relaxed airport, easily accessible from the city: just what the British traveller does not need. The owners of Plymouth City airport have announced the loss-making facility will close by the end of the year, saying "there is no realistic prospect of trade improving in the near future".

Plymouth's airport, just north of the city centre in Roborough, is one of the oldest in Britain. It opened in 1925, with its main role initially to distribute mail arriving from across the Atlantic via a link to Croydon aerodrome south of London.

While Plymouth is the most isolated big city in England, its quarter-million people do not use the airport in sufficient numbers to make the airport viable. The owners, Sutton Harbour Holdings, incurred an average loss of £8 for each of the 350 passengers who flew to or from the airport on a typical day last year.

At the start of 2011, the airport offered links to 10 airports in the British Isles, all on Air Southwest. But in January the long-standing link to Gatwick ended, cutting the number of passengers each day by about 100 and accelerating the airport's demise.

The land is leased to Sutton Harbour Holdings at a peppercorn rent by Plymouth City Council. It is likely to be used for housing unless a new owner or business model can be identified. A city council spokeswoman told the BBC: "Under the terms of the lease, we have until late December to explore all options for the airport." She said discussions had been held with other airport operators and with 16 airlines.

The closure is symptomatic of the reality that Britain has rather too many airports for a small, crowded island to support. Plymouth has a natural catchment area covering the western half of Devon and eastern Cornwall, but found itself as the "squeezed middle" between Exeter and Newquay. Unlike those airports, Plymouth City has tight constraints on the aircraft that can take-off and land.

Newquay has established itself as a low-cost gateway to Cornwall, with flights from across the UK and even a summer service on Lufthansa from Dusseldorf. And Exeter, which handles five times as many passengers as Plymouth, is the home base for Flybe, Europe's biggest regional airline.

Elsewhere in Britain, multiple airports serving the same catchment can work well. The tension between Liverpool John Lennon and Manchester offers choice and competition for travellers in north-west England, while in the south-east newly independent Gatwick is challenging Heathrow. But Devon and Cornwall have a combined population of 1.25 million. For them to be served by three airports, with another at Bristol easily accessible, proved unsustainable.

Plymouth appears set to follow Coventry airport, where passenger flights ended three years ago, into civil aviation oblivion. The closure will raise concern at some of Britain's other small airports that have a bigger rival nearby.

The expansion at Southend will accentuate the "two-nation" division of the UK's airports. London is by far the biggest aviation market in the world, in terms of passenger numbers – way ahead of New York, Tokyo and Paris. This supremacy is partly the result of the concentration of air traffic around the capital at the expense of regional hubs. Both Germany and Italy have "dual hub" arrangements, with Frankfurt complemented by Munich and Rome by Milan. But successive attempts to make Manchester an alternative to London have failed.

Heathrow remains the premier European airport, and has a near-monopoly on transatlantic services from the UK. Airlines can command much higher average fares from Heathrow than from other airports. As a result, precious take-off and landing slots have progressively shifted from UK domestic routes to long-haul services. Only Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Belfast now have links from Heathrow, a far smaller number than comparable airports in France and Germany.

Some in Plymouth will blame the airport's decline on the ending of services from Heathrow a decade ago. For a city the size of Plymouth to have no connection to the nation's biggest airport is a significant blow for both business and tourism.

Small airports that could soon be grounded

* Durham Tees Valley between Darlington and Middlebrough, and close to Newcastle, saw passenger numbers slump by one-fifth last year to 225,000. BMI recently ended its long-standing link to Heathrow.

* Blackpool charges an "Airport Development Fee" of £10 for every departing passenger aged 16 or over. The facility at Squire's Gate styles itself as "The regional airport for Lancashire and the Lake District", but these areas have excellent links to Manchester airport, including frequent direct trains.

* Humberside is plugged into the intercontinental network courtesy of its three daily flights to Amsterdam, but the only other scheduled destinations are Aberdeen and Alicante. It is only 25 miles from Robin Hood Doncaster-Sheffield, the former RAF base that became a civilian airport six years ago.

* City of Derry airport is another former RAF base, now owned by the city council. They intend to raise its profile and reduce subsidies, but it faces intense competition from the two Belfast airports for a small population.

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence