Will all our airports re-open?

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

This morning there was an interview with Olivier Jankovec, Director General of the European Region of ACI ( Airports Council International) on CNBC’s Squarkbox, an early morning business programme television.

Image © DTVA

ACI is sort of the trade union for airports around the world. In Europe alone it has about 500 airports which are affiliated in one way or another.

During the interview, Jankovic suggested that not all those 500 might survive the impact of coronavirus.

The UK has about forty commercial airports with passenger flights taking people overseas. Some that were previously used for package holiday and scheduled flights are no longer around such as Blackpool, Manston, Plymouth and Sheffield. Others such as Prestwick and Humberside have a shaky existence.

At a time when climate change activists are making us consider whether we need the number of airports we have and when coronavirus might make us wary of travelling abroad, the commercial future of some of them might be in trouble.

Top of the list has to be Prestwick which the Scottish government owns. Since it began that ownership, numbers using the airport have dropped by over a half and last year the airport was put up for sale. Nearby Glasgow International could easily mop up the 600,000 or so people that used the airport last year.

Like Prestwick, Teesside International in County Durham has been kept open because of politics. The current mayor has been a strong supporter and, in the last two years, passenger numbers have risen but with just 150,000 passengers a year – mostly flying to Amsterdam for onward connections, can politics keep an airport open. Both Newcastle and Leeds-Bradford airports are relatively close as alternatives for locals to use.

Humberside hovers around carrying about 200,000 passengers a year and with Doncaster-Sheffield less than forty miles away is there going to be sufficient demand in the future to warrant a third airport in Yorkshire? With Doncaster-Sheffield having the longer runway, I know which I would be tempted to close if there is no international travel rebound.

Does Belfast need two airports? Image – Belfast International

The same could apply to Bournemouth and Southampton airports which are within about thirty miles of each other and which are connected by a fast A road and a motorway. Southampton – heavily impacted by the collapse of Flybe – has the better connectivity for people getting to the airport but are both necessary in what might be a new age of travel?

Does Belfast need two airports? Does City of Derry Airport need to survive given it is only flying as many passengers as it did about twenty years ago?

But like other airports, politics rather than commercial reality makes it difficult to forecast which might close.

Carlisle-Lake District is our newest airport. Time will tell if it can perform viably but, with hindsight, the developers might have wondered whether they should turn it into a passenger carrying provider at all.

Airport owners will all be crystal-ball gazing at what the future will bring. Some will certainly be looking at where creating an industrial park might be a better use of the site.

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