Has Carlisle Lake District Airport a future?

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

After a gap of 26 years, passenger flights have recommenced at used to be the old Carlisle Airport. Now, renamed, Carlisle Lake District Airport, the first services link the airport to Belfast City, Dublin and Southend-on-Sea all of which are on Loganair.

Originally an RAF base during WWII, it was known as Carlisle Airport when it was no longer needed for the RAF but the name it has had for the last ten years or so – Carlisle Lake District Airport – is probably a better name for attracting those who want to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But with flights to just three destinations, only one of those destinations might have a real attraction. Dublin has the advantage of international flights and, crucially perhaps, pre-clearance for those wishing to fly to the USA.

Southend as a destination and as a supplier of incoming passengers has the potential to be interesting because it has become a large easyJet base. Passengers could easily transfer to and from holiday destinations in Europe.

And with free parking a free bus transfer to and from the middle of Carlisle, there is another incentive to use the airport.

But the airport faces problems and not just in the appeal of the places to which it flies. The planes that Loganair use are only 34 seaters and the flights will only be on five days of the week; on Tuesdays and Wednesdays there are no flights at all. Secondly, it is said that although the airport can handle Boeing 737’s and Airbus 320’s (the largest of which can carry up to about 215 passengers) it is said that eighty passengers is the most that can be handled by the airport at present. That maybe is why easyJet is not using the airport at the moment. No doubt there are plans to handle a full flight in the near future otherwise growth will be limited.

The airport faces competition from Newcastle Airport which is just over fifty miles away and offers a wider range of links. How will the airport compete with that?

But the owners of the airport, Sobart Air have done wonders with another airport they operate, Southend, so can they replicate the same sort of success at Carlisle Lake District?

The population of Cumbria is about half a million with Carlisle having about a fifth of that. Lancashire is about 1.2 million but the further south you go in Lancashire, the more likely that passengers would look to Manchester Airport rather than Carlisle Lake District. the further east you go, the more likely that Newcastle Airport will attract the bulk of passengers. The catchement area of likely passengers flying from the area isn’t huge. Greater demand is likely to be from incoming passengers and it is to that that the airport management must look.

The Lake District is a huge tourist draw so if the airport can get direct flights to the places from where existing (and potential) visitors come, then there is no reason why the airport shouldn’t flourish. If those flights are then packaged with an offer of bikes or hire cars so visitors can explore the area then that would make the future of the airport even more secure.

panoramic view of the Lake District
The Lake District – the most visted national park in terms of overnight stays – is the big incentive to use Carlisle Lake District Airport

But uppermost in the minds of airport should be that of Blackpool Airport. It was touted as the gateway to the north-west and the Lake District and that foundered despite having an airline as valuable as Jet 2 using it. Carlisle Lake District will not want to replicate what happened there.

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