No guarantee of flights at Blackpool Airport until deal is agreed

Blackpool Airport
Blackpool Airport

Blackpool Airport is facing a race against time to return commercial flights to Squires Gate.

As widely reported, passengers can book seats on Citywing aircraft flying from Blackpool to The Isle of Man and Belfast from April.

But the Gazette can exclusively reveal NO deal has been agreed yet to allow the flights to actually take place.

And if no agreement is reached by April passengers may see their bookings cancelled and refunded or be offered flights from Liverpool or Manchester instead.

The news comes as The Gazette can also reveal Blackpool Council has told airport campaigners it is ready to subsidise the return of the Citywing flights to secure the return of initial commercial services to the town.

Councillors and leading council officials staged a meeting with members of the Save Blackpool Airport pressure group to allay fears over the future of aviation at Squires Gate.

Rob Blower, chairman of the group, said the council was set to cover the costs (believed to be in the region of £20,000) to convert the airport from a Category Two to Category Three which is needed for emergency cover to 
allow commercial flights.

That would remove one of two major barriers, and the Gazette understands that Citywing is now just awaiting on a ruling from the Civil Aviation Authority over security protocols which would then allow their Blackpool flights to go to the Isle of Man and beyond.

David Buck managing director of Citywing said today that as soon as a deal is cleared they would be ready to fly back to Blackpool.

STAFFING

Currently if an operator wants to bring in a passenger carrying aircraft they have to pay an enhanced fee to the airport operator Squires Gate Airport Operations Ltd for it to bring staff in to get it up to the category three level for the arrival.

The airport was reduced to Category Two when it reopened in December with much reduced staffing levels of around 33.

When Jet2 flew from Blackpool to 11 destinations a much higher level of emergency cover, security, air traffic control and radar operations was needed.

But when Balfour Beatty pulled the plug on the previous operating company with the loss of 100 jobs, it decided to resume services at a much lower level to avoid the losses the airport had been making which led to its failure.

Mr Blower said the meeting with Alan Cavill, assistant chief executive of Blackpool council, and Coun John Jones, cabinet member for transport, had been reassuring.

He said: “It was nice to meet Alan and John. They said the council would consider a subsidy should Citywing ever choose to return to the airport, because without the subsidy it would not be 
financially viable for them to return.

“We have a financial indicator that BBC are committed to the airport. Everyone was in agreement that they would like to see a return to international commercial flights.

“I just hope that Citywing get the clearance they need to resume flights at Blackpool. It would be a great start, a step forward. Everyone wants to see the return of the big commercial services that we had when it was Category Seven.

“We have been told that to get back to that level would mean a doubling of the staff, but the economy is improving so you never know.

VISION

“I think ideally the airport may have to be airline owned. An airline using it as its own hub would not have to pay landing fees and not be giving money away to a landlord.

“It just needs someone with a little foresight and vision. The facilities are there and there is huge potential for developing it as an aviation based site.”

Mr Blower said in the meeting the council acknowledged Balfour Beatty had been trying to find a buyer for a couple of years before announcing the closure plans and that four companies had met them who were all interested in aviation but not all focused on commercial flights.

None of them took their interest any further.

Mr Blower added: “The council is unaware of any intention to shorten the runway. In addition it was mentioned the runway is actually part of the green belt and as such it is Balfour Beatty’s responsibility to maintain it.

“The proposed Enterprise Zone for the airport would attract companies because of rate reductions or in the alternative the availability of capital funding.

“The proposed Enterprise Zone will not encroach on any part of the runway, in fact they aren’t legally able to build within 50 meters of the runway. We were then shown a diagram of the plan for the zone to prove that it won’t be near the runway.

“Bond Offshore Helicopters has a four year contact, which it will be able to tender for at the end of this period.

“(Gas) rigs have a life expectancy of 20 years and wind farms now need servicing too.

“This means that there will be a need for an airport presence for the foreseeable future.”

David Buck from Citywing confirmed: “We are still currently in negotiations over coming back to Blackpool.

“We have always said we would resume our service from April and the website has been ready for bookings since the airport reopened.

“We are ready to go once the issues have been sorted out.”

POSITION

He added airlines had 
always operated under the conditions they could cancel a service with two weeks notice and that he hoped that would not be necessary with the Blackpool flights that people had already booked.

Mr Buck said it would be possible for people who had booked from Blackpool to fly Citywing from Liverpool or Manchester instead.

He added: “If we are still in the same position then we will have to make that decision a month out from the deadline.”