Thursday, April 16, 2009

future of flights to Heathrow

FLIGHTS from the North-East to Heathrow could be a thing of the past within 18 months – that is the stark warning from one of the region’s airport chiefs.

According to Durham Tees Valley Airport (DTVA) boss Hugh Lang, only intervention from Government ministers will save air links between the region and the London hub.

The Teesside airport lost its daily bmi flights to London Heathrow last month.

And Mr Lang warned that it was only a matter of time before the viability of the British Airways flights from Newcastle International Airport was questioned.

He said: “There are now only two airports in England still offering flights to Heathrow – these are Manchester and Newcastle.

“A year to 18 months and the Newcastle service could also be gone.”

Speaking at a meeting of the DTVA consultative committee yesterday, Mr Lang stressed his desire to see the Government step in to reserve landing slots at Heathrow for flights to and from the UK regions.

He said that slots were changing hands between airlines for tens of millions of pounds because capacity at Heathrow had been reached.

This meant internal flights were being discarded in favour of more profitable oversees routes, he said.

According to sources, rumours circulating in North- East business communities suggest the Peel Group is considering the future of its aviation division, Peel Airports.

Mr Lang, group airports director for Peel Airports, admitted that falling passenger numbers because of the recession, coupled with issues such as increases in airport passenger duty (APD) and proposed radio spectrum usage charges, meant business was “very difficult”.

He also revealed that a proposed law change meant the airport could soon be charged £300,000 a year for policing.

However, Mr Lang told committee members that Peel had “long-term plans” for the airport.

Although bmi is only one of several carriers to axe flights from the airport in recent months, Mr Lang said services would be found to replace them.

He said: “We take the knocks, but our long-term plan is still to continue with our investment programme and to deliver a modern airport for the region.”

His comments were last night welcomed by James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North-East Chamber of Commerce.

He said: “Peel has made a tremendous impact on Durham Tees Valley Airport and has brought much-needed investment to pave the way for a successful future. The airport has experienced a couple of knocks recently, but we are glad to hear that this has not dented Peel’s confidence in the long-term viability of its operations there.

“DTVA is a crucial communications hub in the Tees Valley and businesses of all sizes are reliant on its future success.”

Graeme Mason, head of planning and corporate affairs for Newcastle International Airport, said that with almost half-a-million passengers travelling from Newcastle Airport to Heathrow last year, the airport was confident of the route’s resilience for the foreseeable future.

He said the biggest issue faced by the aviation industry was the planned increase of APD by the Government.

Last night, the Department for Transport said it recognised the significance of regional airports, both in terms of the employment and travel opportunities they offer local people and the part they play in the local economy.