Coping In Cornwall

Likes (0)

With financial assistance packages in place, Newquay Cornwall Airport is hoping for a brighter future. Tom Allett reports.

Newquay Cornwall Airport, located in the southwest of England, is a vital economic asset for the county of Cornwall. (All images – NQY)

Many vital community businesses and services are under pressure at the moment and Newquay Cornwall Airport is no exception.  Having started life as a small civil airfield in 1933, it was requisitioned by the British Government in World War Two, adopting the name Royal Air Force (RAF) St Mawgan a decade later.  Although a military-operated airfield for most of its existence, it has hosted passenger services since the 1970s. As the RAF has been in the process of reducing its operations at home and abroad for a generation, St Mawgan was one of many casualties of the cut-backs.  In 2008, most British airports were experiencing significant growth on the back of a strong UK economy and Newquay’s passenger numbers peaked that year at 431,100.  Military operations officially ended in November 2008 and the now Newquay Cornwall Airport completed its transition into a wholly-commercial facility the following year.  At this point, owner Cornwall County Council took on the burden of costs for essential services such as air traffic control, fire and rescue, utilities, insurances and the rateable value of the airport site, which had all previously been covered by the Ministry of Defence.  Unlike many other airports, Newquay’s new council owners were not able to balance the costs against revenue generated by a large property portfolio.  Nevertheless, things still looked promising initially.  The regional airport Newquay continues to have several points in its favour.  Thanks to its military past, the airport boasts a runway length of 9,101ft (2,744m) and today has instrument and approach lighting enabling CAT III landings.  The terminal building was extended in 2006 and was improved to streamline the passenger handling process and give it a theoretical capacity of 700,000 passengers in 2008.  Though compact, the building looks modern and is functional.  In 2011 it handled some 209,000 passengers.



Passengers departing UK airports were already subject to the British Government-imposed Air Passenger Duty (APD), which meant domestic services were being taxed at both ends of the sector.  In addition to the duty, Newquay introduced its own £5 (US$8) Airport Development Fee (ADF) charge in 2006 on all passengers leaving its facility.  This type of development levy is more common today, but it caused a lot of controversy six years ago.  Monarch dropped its Malaga route, and Ryanair, which made the loudest protests about the £5 charge, cut back a number of its Newquay services, though these were partially restored at a later stage.  Despite these setbacks Newquay’s passenger figures peaked in 2008, the year the airport launched its draft master plan to chart its progress through to 2030.  As the effects of the global recession began to bite, the Cornish airport experienced a 26% drop in traffic during 2010 and 2011.  Matters worsened when, having failed to change the council’s decision about the ADF, Ryanair pulled out of Newquay completely, dropping all of its London Stansted and Alicante services by 2010, reducing the airport’s revenue by about £100,000 (US$161,500).  Disaster struck later last year with the demise of Plymouth-based Air Southwest, taking 61% of Newquay’s flights, 45% of its passengers and almost £1 million (US$1.6m) of annual revenue.  Flybe picked up some of the lost services, but the damage caused by the loss of Ryanair and Air Southwest is still being felt and, combined with the effects of the wider recession, its passenger profile has changed from an 80/20 leisure/business split to today’s 60/40.



Cornwall has a population of about 535,000 and the county council acknowledges that the airport is unlikely to ever be profitable from passenger numbers alone.  It wants to expand the airport’s other commercial opportunities by diversifying and attracting different sectors of the aerospace industry.  It has had some initial successes in this area.  When the airport was selected as one of the Government’s new Enterprise Zones last August, it enabled it to take advantage of nearly £2.5 million (US$4m) in tax breaks.  However, Cornwall County Council still subsidised its operation through a Public Service Obligations Agreement of approximately £3.3 million (US$5.3m) last year.

The man tasked with leading the airport’s recovery is Managing Director Al Titterington, who at the age of 34 must be among the world’s youngest commercial airport bosses.  On attracting new services to Newquay, he commented: “With the current economic climate, airlines are significantly more risk-adverse than they were a few years ago.  We know that we are haemorrhaging passengers from the local area to other southwest and London airports.  Some local people are making the [perhaps three-hour road] journey up to Bristol in order to catch flights to holiday destinations that we know we could successfully operate from here.

“The first of many routes I would like to add is Palma, Majorca, but when those potential Newquay passengers are making that long road journey to fly with the same airline that we would like to attract here, it makes your [‘bring your aircraft to Newquay’] argument that much more difficult.”  As a regional airport we are not alone facing these challenges in developing passenger growth and discussions with a number of airlines are ongoing.  We are hopeful that growth from the airport will come in the next couple of years, if not sooner.”


This entry was posted in Airline Focus, Airports, Features.

Comments are closed.