Last-ditch talks fail to save our airport

Down to earth: An aircraft comes in to land at Squires Gate
Down to earth: An aircraft comes in to land at Squires Gate
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It was the death knell everyone was hoping against hope would never happen.

At just before 7pm yesterday, Blackpool Airport confirmed last-ditch talks to save it from closure had failed and it will cease to open to the public from Wednesday next week.

OwnersBalfour Beatty – which said the terminal was losing an estimated £1.5m a year – had been talking to two potential buyers late into yesterday.

But no deal could be struck by the deadline, confirming the “sad” demise of the terminal.

Around 100 jobs are now in the balance.

Today, the fall-out continued as to who was to blame for the shock closure as thousands of passengers saw their holiday plans thrown into chaos.

Jet2 flights are expected to continue from the Squires Gate terminal today and tomorrow with all future flights going in and out of Manchester Airport.

Blackpool Conservative leader Tony Williams said: “It is a very, very sad day. It’s 100 years of aviation in this resort tragically gone in a flash.

“The finger of blame has been pointed in many directions but Blackpool Council really hasn’t done a great deal to step in and make some sort of approach to save it.

“This (closure) gives the impression the town is going backwards and dying. It suggests we are in decline.

“It sends entirely the wrong message out all over the UK and beyond.

“It could have been such a growing, thriving enterprise but look at it now.”

Philip Meeson, chief executive of Jet2, had accused Balfour Beatty of being “moaners” and denied suggestions his company’s plans to cut next year’s schedule by 10 per cent contributed to its demise.

Passenger numbers hit more than 550,000 in 2007 but slumped to 262,000 last year.

He said: “We are very sorry because we like Blackpool Airport very much and have run a successful operation from there but Balfour Beatty has simply not put enough effort into the airport. They have not marketed the site or tried to attract new customers.”

In a statement, Blackpool Airport said: “We regret to announce that no agreement has been reached to secure the future of operations at Blackpool Airport. The airport operation has been making a loss for a number of years and unfortunately there is no option for the company other than to close.

“This is a very sad day for the Airport which has a proud aviation history and a loyal, appreciative customer following. We would like to thank all our dedicated staff who have delivered exceptional service to passengers for many years.

“The airport will remain open to the public until 15 October and we will endeavour to maintain operations as normal until this date, after which time commercial flights will cease.

“While the sales process announced at the end of August was a final attempt to secure the future of the airport, the airport’s management had spent many months prior to this announcement approaching organisations with a potential interest in the Airport in an attempt to find a buyer.

“Work is currently underway with the independent aviation businesses and tenants at the airport to understand if their operations can continue in the future. Working in partnership with the local authorities, regeneration plans are also being developed which will be designed to create future employment and sustainable economic development opportunities for Blackpool and the Fylde coast.”

Coun John Jones, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “This is a very sad day for Blackpool, the airport and, most importantly, the staff who work there.

“My thoughts are with all of those who are affected by this announcement, both directly and indirectly.

“We will, of course, offer any help we can to them.

“This does not necessarily mean the end of the line for aviation at Squires Gate and we are aware that interest remains in the airfield and the site.

“As a passenger-led airport it has lost money throughout its tenure, has not delivered inbound tourism and the jobs growth one would expect for the size of the site and neither Balfour Beatty or any other company appears to be able or minded to save it on that basis.

“The site undoubtedly does, however, have significant potential to deliver quality jobs, growth and, equally importantly, profit as a commercial airfield and helipad as other similar ventures around the country have.

“We continue to work and try to make that possible and will continue to be as open and frank as we can with the public as we have from the outset.

“I am sure people will understand, however, that reputable companies will not carry out commercial negotiations in public.

“We will continue to try to find the best possible outcome for Blackpool and will work with the interested investors to maximise the potential for growth of high quality jobs at the site.”

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “The focus must be now on those who have lost their jobs.

“However, this must not be the end of this story. As I know, discussion are still continuing and talks must now intensify with all the parties that are involved.

“It’s crucial that the emphasis now remains on keeping the active with the infrastructure left at the airport.The council should quickly put to bed any talk of shops or housing on the site.”

What to do if you are a Jet2 passenger....

Flights with Jet2 from Blackpool Airport were due to fly from the Squires Gate terminal today and tomorrow.

From Friday, all Blackpool-booked flights will take off and land from Manchester Airport.

Passengers were emailed by Jet2 last night to tell them of their new flight arrangements.

Jet2 said it had negotiated a 20 per cent discount on car parking at Manchester Airport for customers affected by the Blackpool Airport closure with all car parking bookings to be made by November 2.

Chief executive Philip Meeson said: “We are making arrangements that from this Friday we will be operating all the affected flights from Manchester.

“We are making every effort to contact all passengers and asking them to report to Manchester instead.”

To contact Aer Lingus Regional call +44 0871 718 5000 for UK or +353 0818 365 000 for Ireland

Call Citywing on 0871 200 0440

Council will not step in to takeover air hub

Blackpool Council has ruled out stepping in to rescue the doomed airport.

Bosses at Balfour Beatty said they had been locked in talks with potential buyers until late last night and had so far rejected inquiries from other parties who were only interested in picking up bargains from the demise of commercial operations at Squires Gate.

Yesterday baggage trucks were seen being loaded onto low loaders at the front of the airport, a day after flights were hit by a lack of aviation fuel when Gulf Aviation stopped deliveries causing flights to be diverted.

Three Jet2 flights were affected before fuel was delivered once again yesterday – passengers to Alicante, in Spain, and Dalaman, in Turkey, had to touch down at East Midlands Airport, in Leicestershire, to refuel en route to their destinations.

Hopes of Blackpool Council swooping in to increase its five percent share in the airport were dashed today.

Despite the council agreeing to use its Prudential Borrowing facility to borrow £11.3m to fund the construction of a new four start hotel in the resort, council leaders said they would not do the same to buy the airport despite calls to do so by Gazette readers.

Town hall bosses said investing in a hotel in the Talbot Gateway area, which would be built and then leased out to the Holiday Inn chain, was a sound investment which would generate a return for the council.

However, the airport had been making a loss of around £1.5m a year and the volatility of air operations business meant it would not be a good investment.

Coun John Jones, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “The first thing to say is that we are not airport operators or hoteliers – we’re a council.

“We therefore do not intend to run a hotel or an airport.

“What we will do, however, is invest in the town through prudential borrowing if we feel it has a large significant benefit.

“We can only do so, however, when we can show we can save or recoup the money in the long-term by making the initial investment – in other words by sensibly and cautiously investing money.

“Forward funding a proven four star hotel in Blackpool town centre – something which the resort does not have and the one key element we need make the resort much more likely to attract national and international conferences and events such as party conferences – will enable us to recoup the money and is a minimal risk for an excellent potential gain.

“Purchasing a loss making passenger airport, at a much higher price, has an extremely high risk and, as such, we could not prudentially borrow for that.”

Routes could be salvaged with Government money

The Government has said it would consider using a new fund designed to help support regional airports should any new owner want to launch fresh routes.

The money from the Regional Air Connectivity Fund could help sweeten a deal for prospective buyers or help retain passenger services at Squires Gate.

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden (pictured first right)wrote to aviation minister Robert Goodwill last week as news broke that the airport would shut unless a buyer came forward.

He said today: “I have had a letter back from Robert Goodwill which was quite encouraging.

“The Government can’t take sides in this obviously but he has confirmed that if new routes were to be set up then there may well be money available from the Regional Air Connectivity fund.

“Any new owner would be encouraged by that and I regard it as a positive statement from the Government.

“It’s a useful point to be added into any discussions with potential new owners.

“He also said he would look forward to meeting any new owner to discuss their plans.”

He added that he had also contacted Greg Clarke, the minister for regeneration, to ask him to get involved with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and council’s bid to create a form of enterprise zone around the Airport to create more jobs.

The Regional Air Connectivity fund was unveiled by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander in the 2013 Spending Round, can be used to maintain important regional air connections, where they are in danger of being lost. The Government doubled the size of the fund to £20m per year in the 2014 Budget.

In June, Dundee was given £2.85m to save its flights to London under the fund.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies (pictured above) said he too had been talking to Government officials about the future of aviation at Squires Gate.

He said: “Since the Airport was put up for sale last month I have been in regular contact with current owners Balfour Beatty.

“I have also been having conversations with potential buyers and investors, my fellow Fylde coast MPs and the Transport Minister to discuss ways to make the Airport a more viable business for investment moving forward, and what Government assistance may be on offer for those wishing to become involved.

“I have also written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Transport calling for a reduction in Air Passenger Duty for smaller regional facilities which would help secure the future of airfields such as Blackpool.

“I am determined the site remains a proud part of Fylde’s aviation history and I will do everything in my power to help make that happen.”