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Article from BTNews 23 SEPTEMBER 2013

COMMENT: Crisis for Cornwall

If, as planned, the three times daily air link from Gatwick to Newquay stops at the end of next March, Cornwall and West Devon will be entirely dependent on surface travel to and from London.  The effects on the business community (and the knock-on consequences to area as a whole) will be catastrophic.  As one senior Cornishman has put it “when the country gets a cold, in the south west we get pneumonia”.  Truro is 275 miles from central London by road.  The train services are not the quickest (and are expensive).  Return travel in a day is far from practical by either means.

The history of air services to Cornwall is interesting.  In 1977 Brymon Airways introduced a twice daily 50-seat service into Heathrow from Newquay, with Plymouth added in the early 1980s and up to five daily rotations.  Plymouth enjoyed a short boom.  BA brought the airline and took over the Heathrow slots with Brymon’s successor Air South West concentrating on Gatwick.  Flybe, seeing the success of the route, then went non-stop Gatwick – Newquay, killing off Air South West and Plymouth Airport.

Sadly Flybe has now sold its entire slot allocation at Gatwick saying that its owners do not make it viable for smaller aircraft operators to use the airport.  Newquay and seven other routes were due to go, but strong parliamentary representation from Inverness seems to have saved that operation.  Jersey and Guernsey have no voice at Westminster.  A slight light at the end of the tunnel is that Flybe is under new and perhaps more enlightened management.  Newquay is not completely off the Flybe map.

What happens now?

The Airport Commission on the London hub is due to submit its interim report in December.  Whether it will delve into regional routes into London we just don’t know. 

The alternatives are to ring fence certain ‘life line’ routes into London, but that is unlikely due to the dearth of slots.  London City is in the wrong place and too expensive for leisure traffic.  RAF Northolt (London Northolt) is in the right position (45 minutes in a Q400 turboprop to Newquay), is possible but needs the unequivocal backing of ‘Davies’.  It is cash positive for Government too.  A four times daily service from Newquay could bring central London (via Underground or road) within less than two hours and give an easy day return possible from the nation’s capital.

Writing in the Western Morning News last week Stephen Gilbert, MP for St Austell & Newquay, called on locals to join him in a crusade to convince easyJet to guarantee the air corridor between Cornwall and the capital.

"It is absolutely vital that Cornwall stands up and speaks with one voice and calls for the air link with London Gatwick to be retained", he said. "This is a crucial route for businesses in Cornwall to take local goods and services to markets in London and the South East and even further afield, as well as being a key-route into Cornwall for those investing here or visiting our part of the world".

Newquay Airport figures show that about 100,000 passengers use the route every year.  It is vital for regional business, investment and tourism.

There is a strong possibility that without all year round London links Newquay Airport might close.  The advent of the Aerohub (See BTN 9 July 2012) has been a positive move but the Royal Navy Culdrose aerodrome could be a Cornwall alternative for civil helicopter operations.

The Newquay Airport figures over the last few years have been negative, inept airport management not helping.  In 2008 the passenger throughput was 431,000 which dropped to 174,000 last year with the current numbers slightly up due to the introduction of a limited easyJet summer only service from Southend.

Adam Paynter, Cornwall County Council cabinet member for partnerships, said: “We have been talking to a number of airlines about operating scheduled flights from Newquay to London from 29 March 2014 and have left them in no doubt as to the importance of this link to the economy of Cornwall.

As well as encouraging leisure travel to and from Cornwall, it is vital that businesses have the ability to travel to London.  This has become increasingly important following the development of the Enterprise Zone which has seen a significant growth in the number of businesses which are establishing themselves at the airport and in Cornwall.”

“Cornwall Council is committed to doing everything it can to maintain these air links”, added Jeremy Rowe, Deputy Leader of Cornwall Council.  “Newquay Cornwall Airport contributes around £23 million to the Cornish economy and the support from businesses is crucial.

"Over the past four months we have held a number of meetings with the airlines and remain hopeful that we will be able to reach agreement.  We welcome the support from Stephen Gilbert in helping to emphasise the importance of this route to Cornwall”.

The Council’s ongoing negotiations with airlines have also been backed by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership whose Chairman, Chris Pomfret, said: “Transport links are the key barrier to business development in Cornwall.  If we want to see the economy flourish a regular link to a major hub airport is critical”.

Mr Pomfret has hit the nail on the head.  Without air links to the nation’s capital Cornwall has a serious problem. Other British regions should watch out.  It could happen to you too.

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