Why we don’t use our local airports

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions
Why isn't Cardiff used more by people living in the CF postcode area? Image -  Richard Swingler. Media Wales

Why isn’t Cardiff used more by people living in the CF postcode area?
Image – Richard Swingler. Media Wales

In a major study of over 542,000 passengers who flew abroad from the UK last year, Just about Travel has found that many people did not use their nearest airport. Some travelled over a hundred miles to catch their flights.

Why should this be the case?

The obvious answer is that flights from their local airport did not fly to where passengers wanted to go, thus forcing them to drive or train to airports that suited them. But the evidence from this survey is that there is demand from some local airports to overseas destinations.

The other conclusion that can be reached is that we passengers are not best served by neither  local airports nor airlines in that the people run those organisations has paid any attention to this potential demand for their services.

Take Aberdeen Airport for example. More people in the Aberdeen postal area, (AB) two –and-a-half times many fly from Glasgow Airport rather than Aberdeen Airport. Even though Edinburgh Airport is slightly closer, Aberdonians prefer Glasgow as the departure point.

Almost as many people living in the Exeter postcode fly from Bristol Airport rather than Exeter. Only 41% of those people used their own local airport in Exeter so virtually 60% were opting for airports requiring them to make additional journeys of a minimum of one hour and in some cases, three hours to catch their flights. Of the 18,065 people surveyed in the EX postcode, nearly 14% preferred to fly from Gatwick, 4.4% opted for Birmingham Airport and 37% for Bristol Airport. Some 17,000 people in our survey or enough people to fill nearly 100 Boeing 737’s, the workhorse of the short-haul airlines.

There is an enquiry underway as to airport capacity in the south east of England, whether it is needed and where it should be. From our survey, 77,746 people were using Gatwick as their preferred choice of airport rather than using their local one.  This suggests to Just about Travel that 14% of all travellers in our survey could avoid using airports in the south east of England for their leisure travel if their own local airports were providing the services that they wanted. As the survey did not look at business passengers and Heathrow is not generally considered to be an airport providing leisure flights, the number of passengers who would use local airports if business and leisure flights were available to their destinations of choice might well be higher than 14%.

Cardiff Airport has struggled in the last few years as airlines have pulled out. That has emphasised even more the plight of passengers who are travelling longer distances to catch flights. Taking just those who live in CF – the Cardiff area postcode – only 64 % of them flew from their local airport. The others opted for Bristol, Birmingham, Gatwick or even Manchester in some cases despite the distances involved and, in some cases of having to pay the Severn Bridge toll as well.

Manchester Airport is one of the biggest airports in Europe and our biggest regional airport. It is no surprise then that from those people in the Manchester area which includes places like Manchester itself, Bolton, Wigan, Oldham and Stockport there is very little passenger “leakage” to other airports and that includes Liverpool and Leeds that are both quite near. The same doesn’t happen in reverse. Passengers living in Leeds and Bradford postcodes are very much more likely to use Manchester Airport because of the wider availability of destinations there. Even Liverpool leaks passengers to its bigger neighbour and it could be argued that you do not need airports to be sited so close to each other.

The survey told us what readers will have suspected all along. Give us the flights and we will use them. If there are no flights to the destinations we want we will – of necessity- go elsewhere.  So how can we, the passenger, win more local services?

Gatwick which attracts passengers from all around the UK rather than their local airports

Gatwick which attracts passengers from all around the UK rather than their local airports

That isn’t an easy answer because airlines will want to see the likelihood of 20,000 passengers for one destination or whatever figure they use these days to justify that. In the past, Ryanair would seek local airports and offer free or 99p fares with the customer paying the taxes. That opened up routes never thought viable before when old-fashioned calculations were used. This time, airlines have evidence from us and other sources of where people have flown to and from to help them decide whether routes are economically justifiable.

The question now is whether we – and our local airports – can persuade them to use that information.

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