Newcastle Airport has had its wings clipped quite considerably this month. It has faced a sad and shocking blow, but one very much in keeping with the sadness a recession brings. Plans were drawn up and ogled over by everyone at the airport and in the surrounding area for a brand new 360-metre runway to be constructed at the site to the north west of the city. These plans are now finding their way into a nearby drawer though and are officially being considered merely, “useful documents”.
Hope for the expansion of the airport couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the number of annual passengers fell by over 600,000 in 2008 to a figure of just 5 million. This might seem like an acceptable number, but with the rising costs of everything from electricity to heating, the airport was struggling to generate more revenue. Newcastle Airport simply can’t afford to expand now and it told MPs in government this month that plans have been temporarily put on hold.
The aviation industry has been suffering a great deal in recent years. If it’s not the recession biting at its heels, such as in this case, then the environmental groups are a constant thorn in their side. Even though BA have announced they will keep their flights from Heathrow to Newcastle, there is now strong Westminster support for a new high-speed rail link between the capital and the north east, which might make life even more stressful for Newcastle airport.
Calls for the expansion of Newcastle airport have been given significant cross party support from Labour, Tory, and Independent councillors in the South Tyneside region. The airport currently handles 5.6 million passengers a year but, with predictions that by 2030 the region will be attracting more than a million visitors a year, pleas are currently being made for it to expand.
John Anglin, the Labour councillor, has said that the region needs a first class airport to boost national and international trade which will in turn safeguard jobs for the entire region. He added that it need not be at the expense of the environment and that cleaner fuel and energy options need to be found.
The Conservative councillor, David Potts, said that any expansion must take into account the views of the local population and added that he hoped that a Newcastle to New York route would be introduced as part of the expansion, something which had been mooted previously by American Airlines.
Independent councillor, Ahmed Khan, was equally enthusiastic about the trade benefits that an expansion could bring, citing Manchester airport as proof that a regional airport can become a global hub.
Chairman of the pro-aviation group, Flying Matters, added his support to the expansion plans, saying that once the world comes out of the current recession, only those countries with first class airports and connections would be in a position to benefit from the predicted growth in trade and visitor numbers. He added that without such expansions it will be jobs rather than goods which are being exported from the North East.
Newcastle Airport has recently bought Samson Aviation Services Ltd for £450,000 as part of the plans for re-developing the area south of the airport. Proposals for the re-vamp include a visitors’ centre with viewing area, a business park, and expansion of the Aviation Academy run by Newcastle College.
Samson Aviation has been operating for 15 years from its 50 acre site and has built up an extremely high reputation in the aviation services sector. Newcastle Airport wants to “build on that success”, according to Dave Laws, the chief executive of the airport, with the intention of transforming Newcastle into “one of the country’s foremost bases for private aircraft owners”. Currently the private terminal is used not only by businessmen but also by the likes of footballer, Michael Owen, and pop stars performing at the city’s Metro Radio Arena.
Newcastle Airport will celebrate its 75th anniversary in two years’ time and it is hoped that the original terminal building, previously owned by Samson, will be restored to its former 1930’s glory. It will be turned into a visitors’ centre with outdoor viewing facilities, something which the airport has been without since 2003.
As with all proposals for the redevelopment of airports, not everyone in the area is happy with the plans. Local residents are concerned that the additional traffic, noise and pollution will have a negative impact on the community and that wildlife will be disturbed. Supporters of the £20 million project are keen, however, to point out that the development is vital for the continuing success of the airport and that some much needed extra parking will be created, along with 1600 jobs for the local community.
If you are planning on flying out of Newcastle airport, you may want to look away now! With three close shaves in less than one month, an investigation is now under way to see exactly how close the airport was to witnessing a fatal incident.
All three near misses, or “airprox incidents” as they are known in the industry, took place between late March and early April. The first was just before midday on March 19th, when an Embraer 145 en-route to Copenhagen and a Boeing 777 on its way to Glasgow almost collided, thirty miles from the airport.
In the middle of the afternoon on March 21st, two Newcastle-bound Boeing 737s had a near miss just five miles away from the airport.
Just over two weeks later on April 8th, a military aircraft almost hit a Saab 200 on its way to Aberdeen airport twenty miles from Newcastle. This is not the first time military aircraft have been a cause for concern in airprox incidents near the airport. In December 2007, an investigation was launched after an Emirates plane flying to Dubai had a close shave with a military aircraft. This was the seventeenth incident involving military aircraft in the area.
The UK Airprox Board investigates fewer than a hundred such incidents a year and only a small percentage are officially classified as being a true collision risk. Many are technical matters which are ultimately deemed not to have put the public in danger. There is, however, a concern amongst the travelling public that the growth of regional airport traffic is making the skies a busier place which will lead inevitably to a greater risk of mid-air collisions.
If you live in the north east and are involved in the gas and oil industry, you will be pleased to know that Eastern Airways have started flying direct to Stavanger, Norway’s energy capital, from Newcastle. Stavanger is also one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2008, so this new route will no doubt appeal to the leisure traveller as well.
This route is the first direct international route to be introduced out of Newcastle by Eastern Airways. The flights will operate each weekday, leaving Newcastle at 09.50 and arriving in Stavanger at 12.40 local time. The return flight will depart from Stavanger at 13.10, reaching Newcastle at 14.00 local time. Prior to the introduction of this service, travellers from the north-east flying to Stavanger had to go via Aberdeen. There are currently direct services operated by Eastern Airways from Newcastle to Aberdeen, Birmingham, Cardiff, Southampton and the Isle of Man.
Stacy Hall of One NorthEast said that the new route would not only improve “accessibility to international business routes” but also “encourage inbound tourism”, both of which are likely to have a beneficial effect on the region’s economy.
Newcastle Airport has come a long way from its humble beginnings back in 1935 when it opened with little more than a grass runway and a hangar. Early in the new millennium, a £27 million extension was opened by Tony Blair and by 2005 it was the fastest growing regional airport in the country, with over 5 million passengers a year flying to 86 destinations. Currently a new Business Park and luxury hotel are being built.
Motorists are outraged after free waiting time at Newcastle airport was cut to just five minutes. Following the five minute cut-off point, drivers will then be charged upwards of £1 for waiting in the airport’s pick-up/ drop-off point.
The changes have angered local taxi drivers who have said that it is ‘virtually impossible’ to leave the parking area in just five minutes. According to Paul Irwin, managing director of Eastcoast taxis, the reductions throw “one hell of a hurdle” in the way of taxi companies serving the airport. He said that five minutes is not enough time to locate the passenger for pick-up and then get out of the airport, given the amount of traffic usually waiting to leave the car-park. He added that if the waiting time is not increased, car-park charges would end up being passed onto passengers, which is less than ideal.
In response to the complaints, bosses at Newcastle Airport have argued that the new exit and entry points now allow vehicles to pass through the car park more quickly, justifying the reduction. George Nesbitt, Head of Car Parking at the airport, was in agreement, saying that the investments made to the car-park would allow the same number of people to be processed free of charge as when the waiting limit was ten minutes. He said, “(for taxis) I’m confident that five minutes to drop off is very achievable and five minutes to pick up, if the customer is waiting, is also achievable.”
Passengers at Newcastle International Airport are being urged this summer to take more notice of security regulations forbidding them to carry liquid items in their hand luggage. It has been revealed that bottles of liquid have become a serious administrative problem for security officials at the airport, who estimate that they confiscate approximately 800 bottles of prohibited liquids each day. This amounts to approximately 400 litres of liquid each year worth an estimated £1000 and enough to fill a full sized swimming pool.
The tightened security restrictions came into play in August 2006, following the arrest on August 10 of a number of Britons accused of a terrorist plot to detonate liquid explosives on board aircraft travelling across the Atlantic. However, hundreds of passengers using Newcastle Airport each day still seem unaware of the restrictions, causing security teams to spend up to ten hours every day disposing of and recycling the liquids.
According to security officials at the airport, the most commonly confiscated items are bottles of water, carbonated drinks, suntan lotion, toothpaste and shampoo. Other passengers, however, have been forced to part with more valuable items such as vintage champagne or bottles of spirits. Now that the holiday season is in full swing, security officials wish to ensure passengers are clear on the rules when packing for their flight. Peter Snell, the airport’s landslide operations manager, has advised passengers to put liquids, gels, creams, lotions and aerosols into the luggage holds where possible. He added that if passengers do need liquid items on the flight they should ensure they are in containers of 100 ml or less and in a resealable transparent bag for easy checking by security staff. Passengers unsure of liquid regulations should check the Department for Transport guidelines before embarking on their trip.