Zombie airports: When business fails to take off

Should Air Passenger Duty only apply out of London airports?

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The Independent Travel

As one British airport faces imminent closure, and another is set to lose all scheduled flights this month, a senior aviation figure has said departure tax should be applied only at London airports.

Blackpool airport’s owner, the troubled construction firm Balfour Beatty, has warned that If a buyer cannot be found by Tuesday, flights will cease the following week. Even in August, at the height of summer, the Lancashire airport handled only 1,200 passengers a day.

Scheduled services from Cambridge airport are set to end on 25 October. The airline, CityJet, has struggled to fill its flights to Amsterdam and Dublin. The city’s airport lost routes to Paris and Milan earlier this year. But Steve Jones, Cambridge airport’s managing director, said: “We are already aware of keen interest from a number of airlines looking to take advantage of the buoyant Cambridge economy and hope to unveil more new services shortly.”

Belfast International’s new managing director, Graham Keddie, said the government should step in to help what are sometimes called “zombie airports”. He said: “Why not make Air Passenger Duty only apply out of London airports? The government’s got to help the regions and not allow London to act as a giant sponge.” APD on short-haul and domestic flights is currently £13.

Passenger numbers at Belfast International have fallen 23 per cent since 2008, but services are now growing, with Virgin Atlantic planning a new link to Florida.

Paul Litten, commercial director at Humberside, deplored the number of passengers who drive to the London area rather than flying from their local airport. He added that passengers should be prepared to pay realistic fares: “They all expect aviation to be cheaper, but at some point they have to look at the fixed costs.

Sands of time: Blackpool may lose its airport

The Independent has analysed Civil Aviation Authority figures for the past six years and identified a number of “zombie airports” whose future looks uncertain. In the five years to 2013, passenger numbers at Durham Tees Valley dropped by three quarters, with a further 11 per cent loss this year, The airport also has the worst rail-air link in Britain, with just one train a week from Darlington.

A “Master Plan” for the airport is under way, aiming at increasing passenger numbers by one-third by 2020. Peter Nears, the airport’s strategic planning director, said the aim was “to establish a viable business model and investment strategy for the long term.”

Analysts, though, say that Britain cannot sustain the current number of airports and that it is inevitable that more will close. Douglas McNeill, investment director for Charles Stanley, told The Independent: “If Britain needed so many airports, they’d be much better used than they are. Many would never have been built in the first place had the military not bequeathed the basic facilities after the war.”

The aviation analyst, John Strickland, said: “Airlines prefer to consolidate activity in markets with large populations and strong year-round demand, preferably from business travellers.  Many smaller airports cannot deliver this. The only way they can survive is to demonstrate to airlines that the demand is there. It’s a case of use it or lose it.”