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Doncaster Sheffield airport to close permanently, despite Liz Truss vowing to protect it

New PM promised to ‘protect this airport and this infrastructure’

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 27 September 2022 09:08 BST
Related: Liz Truss ‘prepared to be unpopular’ with plans to ‘grow British economy’

One of the UK’s youngest airports, Doncaster Sheffield, is to close permanently by the end of the year – despite a promise by Liz Truss to “protect this airport and this infrastructure”.

The owner, Peel Group, said: “No tangible proposals have been received regarding the ownership of the airport or which address the fundamental lack of financial viability.”

The local authority says the closure could cost more than 800 jobs.

Since it opened in 2005, the South Yorkshire airport has failed to make a profit.

In June 2022, the budget airline Wizz Air abruptly closed its base at Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA).

Since warning about concerns for the future of the airport in July, the firm has been conducting a strategic review.

It concluded: “A break-even business plan cannot be identified for the foreseeable future.”

Peel Group said: “We recognise that this will come as a great disappointment to many.

“Our employees have always been DSA’s greatest asset, and we are grateful to them all, past and present, for their dedication and diligence over the years.”

The company says it has been “actively engaging” with local authorities and the Department for Transport as well as the airlines.

“None of these discussions has delivered any tangible results that have changed the board of DSA or Peel’s clear view that the airport is and will remain unviable.”

The new prime minister vowed during her first prime minister’s questions to save Doncaster Sheffield airport as part of the levelling-up campaign.

Liz Truss said she had asked the new transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, “to make sure we do protect this airport and we protect that vital infrastructure and connectivity that helps our economy grow”.

On Friday, the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) made a last-ditch bid to keep the airport open, offering to compensate Peel Group for losses for a further year while a new owner was sought.

But Steven Underwood, chief executive of Peel Group said: “We will not accept any public sector grant to cover the costs of an airport that is not viable due to its lack of adequate forward revenues and high operating costs.

“Accepting funds from SYMCA may postpone the inevitable for another 13 months, but it will divert funds away from services on which communities throughout South Yorkshire rely.”

The decision to close permanently is blamed on “the high fixed costs associated with running a safe, regulated airport, together with recent events materially reducing prospective future aviation income streams”.

One such “recent event” is the collapse of the pound, which has raised aviation costs sharply.

South Yorkshire’s mayor, Oliver Coppard, said: “I’m devastated by today’s announcement by Peel and angry about the impact it will have on our communities. Most importantly, there are hundreds of people across Doncaster and South Yorkshire who will now be frightened for their future.

“For years, we have been investing public money in and around DSA to support the airport, including providing emergency funding [during] the pandemic. Since the announcement by Peel that they were entering into a review of DSA, we have done everything we could to constructively and proactively find a path forward.

“We have identified market interest, brought potential investors to the table, and last week we offered them a deal to protect the jobs and livelihoods of DSA staff, and to give Peel the time and space to negotiate with new investors.

“The fact that they chose to turn our offer down simply confirms what many of us suspected: that Peel was never serious about finding an alternative and safeguarding the future of DSA.

“It is still not too late for them to do the right thing; for them to reconsider their decision for the sake of those employees, businesses and communities directly impacted by this appalling decision.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “The decision taken to close Doncaster Sheffield Airport by its owners is incredibly disappointing, not only for the passengers who use the airport, but also the businesses and staff based there.

“We strongly encourage local leaders and Peel Group to work together and find a solution for the site which will benefit local people and the region’s economy.”

Flights will continue for the rest of the summer season, which ends on Sunday 30 October.

The following day, said Peel Group, “DSA will begin winding down the provision of aviation services”.

The facility, also known as Robin Hood airport, occupies the site of a former air force base, RAF Finningley. It is six miles from Doncaster and 19 miles from Sheffield.

The airport’s main airline customer is currently Tui, Britain’s biggest holiday company.

Travellers with bookings for this winter and summer 2023 will be accommodated from other airports.

Doncaster Sheffield has four competing airports within an hour’s drive. It is 28 miles from Humberside, 38 miles from Leeds Bradford, 46 miles from East Midlands and 53 miles from Manchester.

Another South Yorkshire airport, Sheffield City, opened near the M1 in 1997, but scheduled services lasted only five years.

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