Flights between Newquay and Gatwick could be thrown lifeline
Air links between the Westcountry and London could be thrown a lifeline after it emerged that council bosses have met with Department for Transport officials to discuss government protection for the route.
Cornwall Council approached the DfT to discuss making the Newquay/Gatwick route subject to a Public Service Obligation similar to those which exist in North Wales and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Under these PSO arrangements, a subsidy is offered to maintain transport routes that, although not commercially viable, are deemed to be economically essential for remote regions.
Job Vacancy: Plumbing & Heating Engineer RequiredView details
Trident Plumbing and Heating Services Ltd have a vacancy for a full time Plumbing and Heating Engineer.
Terms: Ring 01326 218934, email CV to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post CV to Unit 1, Ponsharden Ind Est, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 2SG
Contact: 01326 330626
Valid until: Friday, December 20 2013
Flights between Newquay and the capital are due to end on March 30 when the current Flybe operated service comes to an end.
Flybe announced that it would be withdrawing from the route in May, saying that Gatwick's landing charges were excessive.
Earlier this month easyJet, which has bought the landing slots at Gatwick from Flybe and operates seasonal flights to Southend from Newquay, said that there was "insufficient demand" to maintain the London link.
Conor Nolan, who is a regular traveller on the route, said: "The staff at the airport are quite open about the fact that the application has been made."
A spokeswoman for Cornwall Council said: "The council has held initial discussions with the Department for Transport over the possibility of applying for a Public Service Obligation for the Newquay to London route as part of the ongoing work to secure this vital air link."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We have met with representatives with the local authorities and it is now up to the council to decide whether they wish to progress this any further."
If successful, the route would be the subject of the first PSO in England, although routes between Glasgow and the Highlands and Islands and North Wales and Cardiff are already ring-fenced.
PSOs can be subsidised by national or local authorities if a route meets three requirements. Firstly, it must be in a peripheral or development region. The service must be vital to the economic development of the region and a PSO must be the only way a link would be provided, ie it can't be introduced on a route that is commercially viable.
One the face of it, it would seem that the Newquay/Gatwick route ticks these boxes but aviation expert Malcolm Ginsberg, editor of Business Travel News, warned that even if a PSO was granted, it could take some time to achieve.
"The airport management is now thought to be seeking PSO financial assistance from the Department for Transport. It is a good idea but a long-term project, the DfT never before having to deal with EU bureaucracy on this particular matter. The EU is not noted for speed of decision," he said.
Mr Ginsberg, a member of Brymon Airways executive board from 1984 until 1990, has previously said that he is involved in talks, which don't include the council, aimed at securing some form of air link between Newquay and the capital.
He has refused to give more details until an agreement is in place, saying only: "What is planned is very exciting and could mean the reopening of Plymouth City Airport."
The Westcountry's airports have had a turbulent few years as the recession dented consumer spending, leading to a drop in passenger numbers.
At the same time, airlines have been put under pressure from the Government's Air Passenger Duty. This, as well as competition from Flybe on the Gatwick route, led to the sale of Plymouth-based Air Southwest followed swiftly by the closure of Plymouth's airport.
There are concerns about Newquay Cornwall Airport's long term future if London air links are lost. Passenger numbers have also dropped at Exeter Airport, which was bought by the Coventry-based Rigby Group in June.