£10 passenger fee at Newquay Airport would be 'commercial suicide', says expert
A FORMER operations controller for British Airways has branded proposals to raise the air passenger fee at Newquay Cornwall Airport to £10 as "commercial suicide".
Robert Springett, of Liskeard, believes the survival of the airport depends on providing flights to hubs in cities such as Dublin and Amsterdam, which can be used as springboards for international travel.
He was speaking after Cornwall Council suggested as part of their draft budget proposals last week that £400,000 could be saved by doubling the 'airport development fee' from £5 to £10.
Cornwall's airport had already suffered a major blow after easyJet announced it would not take over the Newquay to Gatwick service when Flybe scraps it next March, leaving the county with no direct air link to the capital other than a summer service to Southend.
Mr Springett, who also worked as operations controller for Air Southwest and spent 20 years in the industry, said: "This (fee hike) would be commercial suicide. The original fee is unpopular not only with airlines but with passengers so I would suggest scrapping this altogether and raising the money elsewhere."
He said the way forward was to ensure Newquay Cornwall Airport featured on the map of "international connections", theoretically opening up the county to thousands of extra visitors.
"If you look at Dutch airline KLM then you'll see that they operate quite a few flights from UK regional airports to Amsterdam," he said. "Aer Lingus Regional also operates regional flights from regional airports 'feeding' Dublin. Those passengers from the UK regions can connect through KLM and Aer Lingus hubs to any worldwide destination.
"I believe this is the way to go. We need to look at our international connections. Dublin is only an hour away by plane so a once-a-day service would satisfy those international connection needs and open up, not just Aer Lingus, but the extensive network offered by Ryanair. The same could be said for a service to Amsterdam although the flying time would be around 90 minutes."
Mr Springett also proposed using European Union funding to subsidise Newquay Cornwall Airport, adding: "Many air routes through the Scottish Highlands and islands receive subsidies as they are deemed a vital link. As we're now in the same situation, and probably equally as poor a region as these, then is there not a case to be had with European funding?"
Other options to boost the airport included "more visible advertising east of Liskeard" to attract customers closer to Plymouth, who may not realise the airport is an hour's drive away.
Mr Springett said he did not blame easyJet for concentrating on its Southend to Newquay link, saying it takes no longer to travel from Southend to central London than it does from Gatwick.
Nor did he blame Cornwall Council, Flybe or Air Southwest, saying the issue has always been with Gatwick Airport and the decision by its Spanish owners to increase landing fees for smaller regional aircraft up by 20 per cent, wiping out any profit from the routes.
He said it was time to lose Cornwall's "obsession" with a London air link and seek "constructive ideas".
"I believe, in time, Newquay airport will be profitable but remember that the county has always been seasonal and the economy has been flat-lining for the past five or so years so we need to give it time," Mr Springett said. "It's now an Enterprise Zone and businesses are starting to move in. Maybe Skybus could step up to the plate, invest in slightly bigger aircraft and fill the gap left by Air Southwest and Flybe? Now there's a thought."
For more on the council's draft budget proposals see page 14