Durham Tees Valley

Tom Allett spoke to airport Director Mike Morton about how DTVA is battling against the recession.

Mike Morton certainly has his hands full as the Director of two UK regional airports.
He was once a trained mining engineer.  However, due to the government policy of some 20 years ago, that industry was run down.  Eventually, despite achieving his ambition of running his own colliery, he had to change direction.  His aviation career began in 1996 when he joined BA World Cargo before moving on to work for Servisair and Coventry Airport.  He joined the Peel Airports Group as the Director of Robin Hood Doncaster Airport in 2008 – a position he still holds – and added Director, Durham Tees Valley Airport (DTVA), to his job titles in June this year.
DTVA is located approximately 10 miles (16km) southwest of Middlesbrough and 24 miles (39km) south of Durham.  It was originally built as a RAF station.  Closed after being declared surplus to requirements in 1963, the airfield was purchased and refurbished by the local authorities before starting its commercial life the following year.  It was renamed as Teesside International Airport when a new terminal was opened in 1966.
Taken over by the Peel Airports Group and subsequently renamed Durham Tees Valley Airport in 2004, it enjoyed significant growth over the next two years.  Today though, there is no hiding the fact that DTVA, like most other airports, is having a tough time.
The airport primarily serves the areas of County Durham and North Yorkshire, but competes directly for passengers with Newcastle and Leeds Bradford Airports, both of which are within 90 minutes by road.
Mr Morton explained: “if you look back to the heady days of 2006, things were going well.  We handled around 960,000 passengers that year and it looked as if it would continue
to increase.
“However, we lost fly-globespan, which went bust, costing us several routes – and a proposed bmi baby base fell through.  Then we were also hit by the consolidation of First Choice [Airways] and Thomsonfly.
“Losing the bmi baby base was the biggest hit, but overall the bottom line was that we had lost our core charter business and that is something we are still recovering from.”
 
Cutbacks
Inevitably, a significant loss of passengers led to job losses in a several areas for both airport and its airlines.  The airport’s operating hours were reduced from 24/7 to 18 hours per day and among the redundancies were several air traffic control staff, mainly assistants rather than controllers.
The airport’s cleaning requirements had been outsourced, but were then brought back in-house.  Approximately 50 jobs were lost.
Today, business travel is the airport’s core activity and services provided by Eastern Airways and KLM are key factors for the airport’s future.  DTVA lost its London Heathrow link in 2009 just months short of the route’s 40th anniversary.
Asked for his opinion of what new service would benefit the airport most Mr Morton replied: “While it would be nice to have a [London] Heathrow or Gatwick service again, I don’t think that will ever happen because those airports have different ideas [to us] about the types of services they want there.
However, having said that, we do hear that many of the passengers using our Amsterdam flights prefer to use Schiphol as a transfer airport rather than those in and around London, so perhaps we might see an increase in Amsterdam flights.
“New services that we have got are Tenerife and Sharm-el-Sheikh with Thomson, which should do well.
“I don’t believe we will get back to out 2006 numbers any time soon, but what we need to do first is hold on to the airlines we already have.”
 
New Focus
On June 22, 2010, Vancouver Airport Services (VAS) bought a 65% stake in the Peel Airports Group, providing a major boost for the loss-making Liverpool John Lennon, Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield and DTV airports it owned.

Mike Morton, Director, Durham Tees Valley and Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield Airports. (ALL images – VAS)

Mr Morton highlights the fact that VAS CEO Craig Richmond: “has an affinity with DTVA” and is very supportive.  Together, they are focusing on diversifying revenue streams.  Morton points out that business and general aviation activities are strong and, while they do not form a major revenue stream, they nevertheless provide a small but steady – and welcome – income.
Another source of earnings comes from Cobham, a civilian organisation providing services to the UK military.  Along with its subsidiary Cobham Flight Services, it flies a mixture of Falcon 20 jets and Super King Air turboprops on military exercises.  DTVA built 600,000 sq ft (55,740m2) of apron space for the company to operate from.
Looking forward, Morton says another revenue stream could come from the military.  His team is already in talks with the UK Ministry of Defence about the possibility of re-locating RAF squadrons that may be affected by recent or future defence spending cuts to DTVA.   They are also working at attract an aircraft recycling company to base itself at DTVA, which would mean that retired airframes would be scrapped on the site.
 
Passenger Facility Fee
On November 15, in order to make up for recent losses, DTVA introduced a Passenger Facility Fee (PFF) of £6 (US$9.45) for adults and £2 (US$3.15) for children, which must be paid by all departing passengers.  Before passing through security, all travellers must purchase the appropriate PFF tickets from a vending machine before being allowed airside.
Of course, such taxes are unpopular with the majority of travellers under any circumstances, but Morton says that he has been surprised by the level of support they have received from some passengers.  Some have said they are ‘happy’ to pay the charges for the time being because they want the airport to survive.  Remarkably, some who had booked their flights before the new tax was announced chose to pay the extra charges in support of their local airport even though they weren’t required to.
Morton notes that new majority owner Vancouver Airport Services has airports as its core business and, therefore, it has: “a completely different approach” to its predecessors.  He predicts that with VAS on board DTVA has a “really successful future” ahead.