Plymouth City Airport to close in December

Plymouth Airport The airport was heading for a £1m loss over the next year, said its owners

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Plymouth City Airport is to close in December, its owner has announced.

Sutton Harbour Group blamed the economic downturn and "challenges for the UK regional aviation market".

It said the airport, which employs 56 people, had suffered "significant losses in recent years" and was facing a £1m loss over the next year.

Air SouthWest axed its service to London Gatwick in February, meaning fewer than 100 people were flying out of Plymouth every day.

'High cost'

Sutton Harbour Group, which owns the airport leasehold, said it had worked with freeholders Plymouth City Council, but "no viable solution has been found".

Nigel Godefroy, chief executive of the Sutton Harbour Group, said: "Plymouth City Airport, like many regional airports in the current environment, is unviable as a commercial enterprise.

"This has been an incredibly difficult decision given the efforts by so many, including our own staff, to give the airport a future.

Analysis

The airport has been loss making for a very long time and Sutton Harbour has been wringing its hands over this for months.

What's certain to happen now is that there will be a row over whether Sutton Harbour has really done enough to establish that the airport is unviable.

The council and the business community will fight desperately to see whether there's any way it can be preserved as an airfield rather than be developed for another use such as housing.

If the council finally accepts that the airport has no future, an outline deal is already in place to form a kind of joint venture between the city and Sutton Harbour.

The lion's share of the profits from any redevelopment would go to the city and the process could take 10 years.

"We have always fought for Plymouth's air links and sought to do our best for the city and its people, our employees and shareholders, but the usage of the airport simply does not support the high cost of operation."

He said that the site could be developed with housing, although that was not the company's "specific intention".

He said: "If that was our intention we would have done that many many years ago.

"We will sit down with the local authority and see what their inentions are for the site."

Some of the land at the airport is already earmarked for housing, with a £38m project in the planning system for homes on what was the airport's disused second runway.

Staff have been told it is too early for an exact timetable on redundancies, but the company said it would keep them informed as the process evolved and would support them in every way it reasonably could.

Staff at the airport, who were told about the closure at a meeting on Thursday morning, said they were "gutted".

A fireman based at the airport, who did not want to be named, said it had been a "total shocker" and the closure would make Plymouth much less attractive for businesses.

The Sutton Harbour Group took over operation of the airport in 2000 and went on to launch Air Southwest in 2003.

New destinations were added including London City Airport, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, Cork and Grenoble.

But Air Southwest was sold to Eastern International Airways in November 2010 and loss-making routes, including London Gatwick, were axed.

Nigel Godefroy, chief executive of Sutton Harbour Group, says the site of Plymouth City Airport could be developed for housing

Tim Jones, chairman of Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said rival airports at Newquay in Cornwall and Exeter would benefit from the closure, but Plymouth needed an airport too.

"It's an international city, it has international ambitions with international businesses. Plymouth needs an airport for its future."

He said a new era of shorter take-off and landing planes and helicopters could make the airport viable.

"We need to find a way to preserve the asset because once it's gone there's no going back," he said.

Air Southwest said said it would continue to operate flights from Plymouth until it closed and after that it would operate from Newquay and Bristol.

A council spokeswoman said: "Under the terms of the lease we have until late December to explore all options for the airport and have been working closely with Sutton Harbour to try and secure a sustainable future for the airport.

"This has included talking to different potential airport operators, 16 commercial airlines as well as the Civil Aviation Authority to examine all possible models for the future running of the airport."

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