‘We did not drive the airport out of business’

Blackpool International Airport

Blackpool International Airport

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The boss of Jet2 airlines today insisted his company was not responsible for the crisis which has left Blackpool Airport facing oblivion.

Philip Meeson, the chief executive of Jet 2 – the largest operator at the under-threat Squires Gate terminal – said he was “surprised and disappointed” owner Balfour Beatty has announced the airport could close.

And he denied suggestions today that Jet2’s cutting of next year’s flight schedule by 10 per cent was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the terminal.

Branding Balfour Beatty “moaners”, he said it was down to them that the 
airport had failed.

He added: “It is true we are doing slightly fewer flights in the schedule planned at the moment, but it is early days – only October – and we could easily have put on more flights as the season went on.

“I am really sad that Blackpool Airport might close – it is a great airport and we have great staff there.”

It comes as Balfour Beatty today revealed it is locked in talks with council and development bosses across Lancashire to secure the site’s long term future.

Blackpool Airport’s owners Balfour Beatty today revealed they are locked in talks over a ‘masterplan’ to try to secure the long term future of the site.

The infrastructure giant has been in discussions with Blackpool, Fylde and Lancashire County Councils along with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership to maximise the potential of the site should, as seems likely, the commercial airline operation cease on October 15.

And local MPs have called for the site to be made into an Enterprise Zone similar to the one designated for BAE Systems sites at Warton and Samlesbury which could potentially attract investment and create jobs.

The council’s would have to agree to any development on the site but a plan is being drawn up which could encourage more businesses to come to the site with a focus on the Fylde’s energy coast status but still retaining a strong aviation presence.

A spokesman for Balfour Beatty said today: “We fully understand the anxiety that the potential closure of Blackpool Airport has caused to the staff and businesses which currently operate at the airport and to the local community.

“Following the global financial crisis, the nature of aviation activity in the UK changed and aviation companies had to revise their business models.

“While these realities affected Blackpool Airport, Balfour Beatty continued to stand by the airport by funding its operation, keeping the dedicated and high quality staff employed, investing significantly in the promotion of services from Blackpool and ensuring the runway, aircraft stands, terminal building and other facilities were maintained and developed to keep the airport’s customers flying.

“However, the well-publicised losses at the airport cannot continue to be sustained and, based on the current schedule of flights being planned for 2015, we do not anticipate this situation will improve.

“We have been in detailed discussions for some time with various public and private sector stakeholders with an interest in the airport and are hopeful that, working together, a viable plan for sustaining aviation activity at Blackpool can be achieved.

“We have been working tirelessly to try achieve this, and talks are still ongoing aimed at finding the best solution for the airport and its future.”

On Monday Balfour Beatty revealed that the Squires Gate airport will “likely” shut on October 15 if a buyer cannot be found by October 7 – threatening 100 years of aviation history on the Fylde coast.

The financial dire straits which Balfour Beatty today blamed for the move come despite, just a few months ago, the airport reporting a year-on-year increase in passenger numbers, has found itself in such dire straits.

Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: “Blackpool Airport did best in the era of ‘really cheap flights’ before the great recession when Ryanair was growing fast, and credit-fuelled spending made budget flights a reality for so many.

“The airport always knew that to break even it would need increased consumer confidence. The tragedy is that it has run out of steam just as daylight can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

“Perhaps the best long-term prospect for the Fylde coast is to seek to safeguard the employment around the airport by making it an Enterprise Zone like BAE enjoys at Warton, which is why I am writing to George Osborne today with just that proposal.

“Then, whatever the airport’s future, local businesses have the best chance possible to grow the local economy.”

Fylde MP Mark Menzies, in whose constituency the airport stands, has called on the Government to step in to help save the airport.

He said: “I had hoped Balfour Beatty would be able to find a buyer which could take the airport on and give the necessary commitment to make it a profitable and viable venture, but it does not seem likely that will happen in the short term.

“I have written to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport calling for the Government to sharply reduce Air Passenger Duty for flights operating from smaller regional airports to make properties like Blackpool more attractive to airlines and investors.

“I made it clear to Balfour Beatty that under no circumstances would I support this land being sold for commercial or residential development as airport runways are strategic national assets and should be protected.

“I will be working with Fylde Council, which would deal with any planning or change-of-use applications for this site, and my neighbouring MPs in Blackpool to see what we can do to make this a more viable proposition for the aviation industry to keep operating from Squires Gate, as it has done for the best part of a century.”

Airport masterplan bid

Blackpool Airport’s owners Balfour Beatty today revealed they are locked in talks over a ‘masterplan’ to try to secure the long term future of the site.

The infrastructure giant has been in discussions with Blackpool, Fylde and Lancashire County Councils along with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership to maximise the potential of the site should, as seems likely, the commercial airline operation cease on October 15.

And local MPs have called for the site to be made into an Enterprise Zone similar to the one designated for BAE Systems sites at Warton and Samlesbury which could potentially attract investment and create jobs.

The council’s would have to agree to any development on the site but a plan is being drawn up which could encourage more businesses to come to the site with a focus on the Fylde’s energy coast status but still retaining a strong aviation presence.

A spokesman for Balfour Beatty said today: “We fully understand the anxiety that the potential closure of Blackpool Airport has caused to the staff and businesses which currently operate at the airport and to the local community.

“Following the global financial crisis, the nature of aviation activity in the UK changed and aviation companies had to revise their business models.

“While these realities affected Blackpool Airport, Balfour Beatty continued to stand by the airport by funding its operation, keeping the dedicated and high quality staff employed, investing significantly in the promotion of services from Blackpool and ensuring the runway, aircraft stands, terminal building and other facilities were maintained and developed to keep the airport’s customers flying.

“However, the well-publicised losses at the airport cannot continue to be sustained and, based on the current schedule of flights being planned for 2015, we do not anticipate this situation will improve.

“We have been in detailed discussions for some time with various public and private sector stakeholders with an interest in the airport and are hopeful that, working together, a viable plan for sustaining aviation activity at Blackpool can be achieved.

“We have been working tirelessly to try achieve this, and talks are still ongoing aimed at finding the best solution for the airport and its future.”

On Monday Balfour Beatty revealed that the Squires Gate airport will “likely” shut on October 15 if a buyer cannot be found by October 7 – threatening 100 years of aviation history on the Fylde coast.

The financial dire straits which Balfour Beatty today blamed for the move come despite, just a few months ago, the airport reporting a year-on-year increase in passenger numbers, has found itself in such dire straits.

Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: “Blackpool Airport did best in the era of ‘really cheap flights’ before the great recession when Ryanair was growing fast, and credit-fuelled spending made budget flights a reality for so many.

“The airport always knew that to break even it would need increased consumer confidence. The tragedy is that it has run out of steam just as daylight can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

“Perhaps the best long-term prospect for the Fylde coast is to seek to safeguard the employment around the airport by making it an Enterprise Zone like BAE enjoys at Warton, which is why I am writing to George Osborne today with just that proposal.

“Then, whatever the airport’s future, local businesses have the best chance possible to grow the local economy.”

Fylde MP Mark Menzies, in whose constituency the airport stands, has called on the Government to step in to help save the airport.

He said: “I had hoped Balfour Beatty would be able to find a buyer which could take the airport on and give the necessary commitment to make it a profitable and viable venture, but it does not seem likely that will happen in the short term.

“I have written to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport calling for the Government to sharply reduce Air Passenger Duty for flights operating from smaller regional airports to make properties like Blackpool more attractive to airlines and investors.

“I made it clear to Balfour Beatty that under no circumstances would I support this land being sold for commercial or residential development as airport runways are strategic national assets and should be protected.

“I will be working with Fylde Council, which would deal with any planning or change-of-use applications for this site, and my neighbouring MPs in Blackpool to see what we can do to make this a more viable proposition for the aviation industry to keep operating from Squires Gate, as it has done for the best part of a century.”

‘We must save this airport’

Major county devlopment figures have come forward to call for a concerted effort to save Blackpool Airport.

Edwin Booth, chairman of Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “The airport is a feature of the North West’s aviation heritage and all interested parties should be considering how, and in what form, it may continue to function as an airport in future.

“It’s not inconceivable passenger demand on airports across the region could grow substantially again over the next decade and that possibility should be borne in mind.

“However, the airport is a large site in a strategically important location for Blackpool and the Fylde so Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s major concern now is that, whatever happens to the airport operation itself, the site isn’t neglected and efforts are made to ensure it forms part of a brighter economic future for the area.”

Jennifer Mein, Leader of Lancashire County Council (pictured), said: “The airport is well located for many thousands of Lancashire residents and it’s disappointing that this hasn’t been converted into much greater success in terms of passenger numbers or investment. The current situation is very worrying for the businesses and employees who rely on the airport, together with passengers already booked onto flights, and I hope they will receive some clear, more positive news soon.

“In the meantime the county council is escalating its ongoing discussions with local councils and Lancashire Enterprise Partnership about how we can contribute to a better future for the whole airport site in light of Balfour Beatty’s 
announcement.

“It’s a very substantial site at the heart of the Fylde and we’ll do everything we reasonably can to support the current or future owners.”

Council chief: We won’t give up on terminal

Council bosses today hit back at claims they have “surrendered” over the threat of closure facing Blackpool Airport.

As reported in yesterday’s Gazette (pictured left), opposition councillors, Coun Paul Galley and Tory group leader Coun Tony Williams, attacked Labour-run Blackpool Council over what they perceived to be a lack of fight from the authority to prevent the possible liquidation of the airport.

It came after the council said Government cutbacks meant that, while the authority was keen to speak with any new owners of the site, the council had “no current plans” to buy the terminal.

But Coun John Jones, the council’s portfolio holder for transport, today denied the claims of opposition councillors and challenged them to join with him in seeking a 
solution to the crisis.

Coun Jones told The Gazette: “At this moment in time we are just waiting for Balfour Beatty to get back to us.

“We are being pro-active and for the Conservatives, particularly Coun Galley and Tony Williams, to say we’re not doing anything is unfair and I’m not very happy with them at all. They don’t say what they would be doing.

“What we’ve got to remember is we don’t own the airport. We own five per cent of the land, but that’s not to say we don’t want the airport and the runway to be retained.”

He added: “Coun Williams has not come to me at all and asked to sit and talk to us about it. If he wants to sit down and has got ideas that would be welcome. If buyers are out there looking then criticism from the opposition isn’t going to help.”

However, Coun Galley struck back – claiming the council should be borrowing money to prolong the airport’s life while a business plan is drawn up to attract a permanent buyer. He said: “If John Jones needs our help we’ll gladly do his job for him.

“He’s got to find ways to buy time for the airport.We just can’t afford to lose it – it’s a massive asset for Blackpool.

“The council is saying there’s no money but this is a council borrowing to buy Syndicate nightclub (for £635,000 last April), demolish it and turn it into a car park.

“It’s very good at borrowing money when it needs to.”

But Coun Jones rubbished Coun Galley’s claims, saying the two situations did not compare and adding the council would not be in a position to buy the airport “outright”.

He said: “The position of the airport and the position of Syndicate are completely different.“There’s a bit of a difference in the price of Syndicate. How you can compare those two I don’t know.”