The Plymouth Herald carried a piece this week on Plymouth Airport in the wake of the Planning Inspector’s post hearing advice which was first reported on FlyPlymouth's Facebook page. The article was modestly worded in appropriate terms quoting FlyPlymouth as ‘welcoming’ the Inspector’s advice with ‘cautious optimism’. Nothing to be concerned about there.
But the headline writer – whose job is of course to sell stories – managed to confuse things with the dramatic sounding: ‘Airport campaigners claim victory in battle to keep dream alive’.
Nothing could be further from the truth. So, here are a few correctives for the record:
1. FlyPlymouth has not been involved in a battle in this planning process. The lines were drawn rather, between Plymouth City Council’s unanimous policies to safeguard the airport site for future aviation use in the Local Plan and the leaseholder’s attempts to overturn those policies so it could dispose of the land for residential development. FlyPlymouth has been a third party – clearly with a strong interest – not a principal actor. If there has been a win, it has been by Plymouth City Council. And council members of all sides are to be applauded for their consistent and unified position on this matter. In the words of Tudor Evans from an earlier article in the Herald, ‘ “There was not a cigarette paper” between the Labour and Conservative positions on supporting the airport.’ Readers of this article may wish to write to their local councillors and/or the party leaders and express their appreciation for what the Council has achieved so far.
2. This is no dream. The airport’s safeguarding is a rapidly hardening fact of local planning policy and that policy appears now to be on its way into the Joint Local Plan when that is adopted early next year. That means that the airport is a firm reality with the force of law behind it. There are commercial stages to progress through to seeing the airport reopened, but those stages will be based on the reality of planning policy which is supported by continually growing aviation and general aviation policy from central government finding its way into the Aviation Policy Framework and National Planning Policy Framework.
3. FlyPlymouth is not a campaign group but an airport operator in waiting. The campaign stage of work was carried out by its predecessor, Viable, resulting in the policy positions adopted by the City Council in 2014 at which point FlyPlymouth was created. All businesses campaign from time to time but FlyPlymouth has barely campaigned since it was created apart from Crowdfunding activities. It is however, ready with the experienced and competent team, the business plans, the customers and the resources required to deliver on Council policy.
4. FlyPlymouth has not claimed a victory here. We have welcomed the news with cautious optimism but made clear that this is a procedural stage within an ongoing process and any such claims would be precipitous. Change is unlikely but it is possible.
In any case, there is little to celebrate in that Plymouth airport has been closed for almost seven years now, valuable jobs have been lost, businesses evicted and the local economy has suffered from the lack of connectivity and the uncertainty created as a result. This entire episode has been a damaging and regrettable act of self-harm for Plymouth and one we should look to put behind us as quickly as possible.
Perhaps on the day when the airport reopens, new jobs are created and connectivity is resumed we can allow ourselves a moment of celebration, but not before.
As 2017 comes to a close we are able to look back on what has been a positive year in the story of the presently-mothballed Plymouth Airport.
Earlier in the year, the Joint Local Plan was approved and submitted by Plymouth City Council, West Devon and South Hams to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. This plan sets out policies that safeguard the airport for future aviation use as a General Aviation facility.
The Local Authorities have decided rightly that the airport should be reserved for transport use and have identified sufficient housing land reserves through to 2034 that means residential development on the airport would be surplus to requirement.
General Aviation (GA) incorporates all aviation activities apart from scheduled passenger services. This means that Plymouth Airport would offer all the private and commercial services including business and charter traffic that it provided prior to closure.
FlyPlymouth’s plan is to acquire the site and recommission it to deliver general and business aviation services in line with local policy. We have the plan, the team, key customers and the private sector investment lined up to execute a transaction and get on with the work.
The next step will take place early next year at the Examination in Public when a Government-appointed Planning Inspector will review the Joint Local Plan to ensure that it is sound. FlyPlymouth will participate in that process together with the Local Authority and the airport leaseholder. Following that, the Planning Inspector will produce a report setting out her findings and recommendations.
Assuming that the City Council succeeds in defending its policy position, Plymouth Airport will be safeguarded for General Aviation. It is then for the Local Authority – the airport’s freeholder – to ensure that the site is brought promptly to market at a fair price based on aviation use.
At that stage, FlyPlymouth will seek to acquire the lease and get on with the work of recommissioning and relicensing the site and introducing aviation activities.
At the beginning of this year, we said that 2017 would be the defining year for Plymouth Airport – based on the available timetable. We now know that the key dates will be around the beginning of February next year but they are now set.
We will of course be updating all our supporters as these events take place. Please make sure that you are following us on Facebook or Twitter where we have over 4000 followers.
News around Plymouth airport has been a little quiet over the past few months but much is going on. We hope that this newsletter will assure you that we are in good shape and looking forward to a decision later this year that we hope will bring matters to a head.
So the present position is that Plymouth City Council, West Devon Borough Council and South Hams District Council have all unanimously adopted the draft Joint Local Plan which states clearly that there is sufficient housing land available until 2034 without having to build on Plymouth Airport and that the airport should be allocated for aviation use to address the City’s strategic transport requirements.
FlyPlymouth has brought forward its business plan to operate Plymouth Airport as a General and business aviation facility in line with this policy. This plan is both deliverable and profitable. Moreover it requires NO funding from either the local authority or central Government and is backed by credible investors.
At the end of April, FlyPlymouth made its final representation to the Joint Local Plan process which outlines the basis for our case in support of the City Council’s policy. A copy of this document can be downloaded here.
EXAMINATION IN PUBLIC
We can expect the Council’s policy to be challenged at a Public Examination later this year when the Planning Inspector will review the evidence and case for and against. Should the Inspector decide to uphold the Joint Local Plan as sound, then the airport will be allocated for transport use and cannot be sold for housing development. FlyPlymouth will then seek to acquire the airport at a fair market value based on aviation use to recommission it and get Plymouth Flying again!.
As at today, we are waiting to hear who will be appointed as Planning Inspector and the timetable of the Examination in Public (EiP). The best information we have at this point is that it is expected to take place in September/October. We shall let you know as soon as we have further information.
YOUR SUPPORT IS STILL REQUIRED!
In support of FlyPlymouth’s case at the Examination in Public, it would help us enormously to receive letters of support from both individuals and businesses. Over the next two months, we would like to hear from as many of you as possible about how you, your family or your business used to use Plymouth airport, how the loss of the airport has impacted you and the City and why a general and business aviation airport would benefit Plymouth.
This could be simply that a general aviation airport would help improve emergency service provision in Plymouth with police and air ambulance services. It could help inward investment and economic growth. It could allow young people access to skills and training for an aviation career and support STEM subject education. And it could help support military activity here in the city. We want to hear your thoughts!
Most importantly, if you, your colleague or family member is a flyer, an aircraft owner, student pilot or business traveller, let us know how would you or they make use of a reopened Plymouth airport. We really would like to hear from as many of you as possible. Now is the time to speak up and be heard. It will make a difference!
Letters should be addressed to FlyPlymouth at 18 Genesis Building, 235 Union Street, Plymouth PL1 3HN and can be posted or sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can use the same email address to send any questions you may have about letter writing.
That’s about it for now except to say a big thank you for your continued support. Our next quarterly public meeting will take place on Tuesday 27th June at 6:15pm at the Future Inn, Derriford. It would be great to see you there where we will be updating our supporters on progress and answering questions.
There has been much recent coverage in the local press about proposals for housing development on the airport site. Given that the Local Authority and the Joint Local Plan are resolutely opposed to such development, these proposals are just that - proposals.
They have come of course with a number of arguments against aviation at Plymouth airport, most of which have gone unchallenged. Here then is our response to some of the arguments against aviation tabled over the past week.
1. General Aviation (GA) offers little real value or strategic connectivity for Plymouth
This is plainly not the case. The Government reported in 2015 that nationally, GA is worth £3bn to the economy, and supports some 38,000 full time jobs in the UK. While any of the individual airports and airfields may not seem very substantial in itself, the network effect creates a multiplier on value. Moreover, GA supports the UK’s £60bn aviation sector through skills, training, business development access, engineering and so on.
In terms of Plymouth, firstly, GA makes possible vital and immediate non-scheduled passenger services such as business aviation, chartered aircraft, air taxis, private flights and so on, all of which do contribute to strategic connectivity and all of which were active at Plymouth airport prior to closure.
Secondly, GA provides for business, leisure, training and emergency service needs which the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states Plans should take account of - Plymouth had a rich history in supporting each of these as well as military - another component of GA
And thirdly, GA provides a deliverable and sustainable means of retaining an airlink at Plymouth until such time as commercial scheduled services are reintroduced. As an example, with the first-class rail fare to Glasgow presently at £660 - historically one of Plymouth airport's strongest routes - and journey time saving of between 7 and 8 hours to be gained each way, a variety of passenger services can be expected to establish themselves to this and other destinations in time.
2. The private sector has had six years to come up with a business plan. Why should we expect things to change over the coming five years?
Since the airport closed in 2011, the one single obstacle to the airport’s return to aviation has consistently been the development hope value placed on the site by its present leaseholder. The fact is that it simply is not worth £11.8 million as an airport and capitalising this would likely cripple a new operation. Several would-be buyers including ourselves have in fact come forward since 2011 with a variety of aviation models but on each occasion, the site acquisition proved insurmountable.
What is different now is that the present planning process finally provides a real mechanism for correcting the site’s value in line with aviation use and so releasing the airport at a fair market value. Should the Council succeed in defending aviation use, the airport will be in the hands of a new airport operator long before five years are up.
3. FlyPlymouth’s plans require a £9 million subsidy which will not be forthcoming…
The £9 million plan put forward by FlyPlymouth was just one of the many possible options for reintroducing aviation at Plymouth Airport. This plan set out a fast-track route to reinstating scheduled services as at that time, all the interest was on restoring passenger air services. The subsequent Government Report was explicit in acknowledging that it had considered just the one plan and that other approaches may be possible.
Furthermore, it is not the case that the Government has ruled out whether or not such funding would be available at some stage to a reopened Plymouth. The self-same funding packages FlyPlymouth referenced presently support services including routes from both Exeter and Newquay today and all new regional routes in the UK seek public sector support to get to breakeven.
Notwithstanding this, given the present planning process, FlyPlymouth’s plan is presently focussed on the general aviation opportunity identified by the City Council. That plan is sustainable, detailed, evidenced and has full private sector funding to allow it to be delivered.
4. SHH’s independent report shows GA to lose £1M per year…
It is true that Sutton Harbour Holding's independent study does show a £1 million loss per year. But this has failed to persuade the City Council. There are over 200 airfields in the UK which operate sustainably and Plymouth is no different from any other viable airport on this basis.
What is interesting is that few of these airports and airfields are viable in terms of aviation revenues alone. Almost all UK airports support their aviation revenue with ground-based commercial revenues – hangars, workshops, offices, training, storage and so on.
Also interesting is the fact that SHH's model shows zero ground-based revenue which might be thought an oversight for a property company. There are of course many ways of ways of balancing operating costs against revenues in an airfield to deliver a sustainable profit – few airfields operate identical businesses.
FlyPlymouth has taken extensive specialist advice and produced a GA Business Plan for Plymouth Airport that will be funded entirely through private investment. There is zero funding requirement from either the local or national authorities to make this happen. Of course, the financial elements of FlyPlymouth’s plans will not be published; Business plans by their nature are commercially sensitive and do not belong in the public domain.
5. Isn’t the land better used for development when we have an airport at Exeter?
Unlike much of the UK, Plymouth is over-supplied with residential development opportunities - many of which take years to come on stream if at all. And delivery of new housing is actually very slow compared to capacity – a fact exemplified in that the new houses at the end of the former crosswind runway at Plymouth airport are only now being completed, ten years after the project was first approved!
But Plymouth also has a significant transport deficit – which is well known. We are one of the UK’s most peripheral larger cities with journey times and connectivity issues that impact negatively on growth, investment and productivity.
A city/subregional airport like that in Plymouth offers local connectivity and GA services that Exeter just cannot provide. Most air passengers from Plymouth since Plymouth airport closed have been shown to travel not through Exeter but through Bristol or Heathrow.
The Plymouth Plan then is entirely right to commit to the retention of unique and irreplaceable transport infrastructure. Plymouth airport has already contributed more than its fair share of residential development land to the City and should rightly be allowed now to provide a variety of valuable air services.
This is our op-ed in Western Morning News.
Neither comprehensive, nor conclusive or decisive: Seven reasons not to rely on the Government's Plymouth Airport Study
Within hours of the Department for Transport’s long overdue Study on Plymouth Airport being published last Friday evening (19th December), some predictable responses were already emerging. We were told that the airport debate was now settled, and the ‘dream’ of its reopening over. But the prospect of Plymouth Airport being reopened – and soon - is neither a debate nor a dream. It is Local Authority policy and it is very real.
Why did this Study come about?
Governments of all stripes have done little to support Plymouth’s transport needs over recent decades. Rather they stood by as Plymouth was stripped of its four-times daily services to Heathrow and Gatwick, then finally of its airline and airport. While the employers packed up and left, Government put this down to market forces. Unfortunately, Plymouth stood little hope competing against major international airlines into Heathrow. Other Government departments will have to figure out why Plymouth is failing to keep pace with national growth and productivity. They might start by considering that the South West has some of lowest transport spend per capita in the UK.
Government does pay attention during elections though and thus it was in the run up to the 2015 General Election that the Chancellor announced a Study into Plymouth Airport. A month later, the then Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin appeared at Plymouth Airport for a press photoshoot and told Plymouth that ‘the door is open’ for Government funding to help restart air services at Plymouth. “If there is something we can do in Plymouth then I’m keen to see it happen”, he said.
Eighteen months after that election and long after the Prime Minister and Transport Secretary of the day had come and gone, a Study has finally appeared. So what does it have to say?
And what does the Study say?
Firstly, the scope of this Study seems arbitrarily constrained for a piece of work that has taken 18 months and compared to Plymouth City Council’s comprehensive approach in 2014. it is worth paying close attention to both what the Study does and does not consider. Here are our seven reasons to be wary of relying on this document:
The Government Study plays heavily on the commercial risks and recommends that these be mitigated. Every business has commercial risks attached to it and aviation especially so. But significant economic benefits are the reward for getting this right.
While it recognises that there is general consensus on the 100,000-150,000 passengers per year being available to Plymouth, it observes that there is not consistent evidence on passenger demand. Passenger demand of course would be a function of the kinds of services offered and the prices they were offered at. But absence of evidence does not amount to evidence of absence. It is just that this Study has not had that passenger demand evidence to consider – hardly surprising since the airport is presently mothballed.
The Study also points to the runway length as a factor that could constrain delivery of services. This is not new information and a short runway can in fact prove an advantage by enabling lower operating costs and keeping competition at bay. But the Study does point out that neither airport infrastructure nor airport noise present insurmountable problems and notes that new technologies such as GPS would permit better service levels to be provided in future.
So where does that leave us?
We have today in Plymouth an airport that has a perfectly usable runway, control tower, hangars and equipment. There are a good number of similar smaller airports that run viable operations across the UK as are possible at Plymouth. The owner, Plymouth City Council has wisely decided that the airport has a vital role to play as part of the city’s future transport mix. It recognises that shorter journey times and quality links direct into Plymouth will help realise its vision of becoming the vibrant waterfront city we all aspire to seeing.
Eighteen months after the General Election that prompted it, the Government has come up with a Study of limited scope that is neither comprehensive, conclusive nor decisive. And this at tax payers expense, two years after Plymouth City Council produced a much more thorough and original piece of work as the evidence base for its transport policy.
Going by information available in the public domain, it appears that the present leaseholder has been advised that it must build houses on the airport if it is to pay down its growing debt pile and so understandably objects strongly to Council policy. But that is no reason to further weaken Plymouth’s frail transport links. This Government Study does little more than muddy the waters.
The matter will be for the Planning Inspector to decide next year during the Examination in Public when Plymouth City Council will defend its planning policy. It will be then that comprehensive data will be considered in a process that is both conclusive and decisive.
Hello supporters, friends and backers of FlyPlymouth.
Our crowdfund is now over - and we finished on a huge £36,263 - a palindromic number no less, and certainly exceeding our minimum target of £25k!
Thank you to every single one of the 330 people who pledged and supported us financially. A few stats that might interest you: a third of pledges came from outside the South West, with people as far as Hong Kong and Burma pledging.
Another stat: on Facebook we had a huge amount of interaction, with over 220,000 people seeing, liking and commenting on our content over the last 6 weeks of the crowdfund.
Half of that came on Friday when our graphic "Do you want Plymouth Airport reopened" gained over 110,000 unique views, and thousands of likes, comments and shares, all of which affirmed that YES - people want our Airport reopened!
So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Didn't pledge? You can still be a part of it!
We said at the beginning of the crowdfund that we need to raise £75,000 over the next year to do three key things:
- £25,000 for operating costs
- £25,000 for the Examination in Public legal and associated fees
- £25,000 for transaction costs
We're off to a great start with the crowdfunded amount of £36,263, and we're now looking to get to our next target of £50,000, which will mean we have the funds ready for the Examination in Public, where we need to get the best lawyers to argue our case for Plymouth Airport's reopening.
If you didn't pledge on this crowdfund, but wish you did (and already we've had people say they wish they had!), then you can STILL support our work by donating on our website.
And yes, if you're a Pilot, we are still offering those stunning Free Landing packages!
The BBC has gained sight of the not-yet published draft Government Report on Plymouth Airport. In its coverage the BBC implied that commercial air services at Plymouth would not be viable without subsidy - £9M of subsidy. FlyPlymouth has long argued that air services are viable without subsidy. So what is going on?
The main point: FlyPlymouth does not need subsidy
First of all let us clarify that FlyPlymouth does not seek any funding from the local authority or ongoing operational subsidy from national government. We have however proposed a package of private funding and Government start-up support to get the airport and airline to breakeven. It is misleading of the BBC to imply the airport and airline would not be profitable especially in light of their misquotation of a leaked draft document.
Our response below addresses 3 key points to clarify why this is the case:
1. Department for Transport: “the door is open”
In April 2015 – the month following the announcement that the DfT would look at Plymouth Airport’s viability, the then Transport Secretary spoke to the press at Plymouth Airport saying that the door was open for public funding to help restart air services for Plymouth.
Specifically he said: “We have looked at a public service obligation (PSO) as far as Newquay is concerned with a deal with Cornwall Council and I will not rule that out for services coming into Plymouth [...] we would need to go through due process but the fact that it is in operation already means the door is open [...] I think things have changed in the aviation industry […] we are seeing from a lot of areas how important regional airports are and regional connectivity. You only need to look at Newquay and Exeter [...] If there is something we can do in Plymouth then I’m keen to see it happen.” (see bottom of this article for links).
So, while the Local Authority, Plymouth City Council has said it wants to see a robust fully funded plan from the private sector and will not/cannot fund future air operations, the Department for Transport has been keen to support regional aviation where it can. It has invited Plymouth to make its case – after all, what is so special about Plymouth that it should not benefit from regular transport funding?
2. Operational Subsidy vs Startup Aid?
There are two kinds of government financial support. One is start-up funding (Grants, loans and Regional Air Connectivity Funding), the other is subsidy for ongoing operations that would otherwise be loss making (Public Service Obligations).
The government regularly helps fund all kinds of private start up activities as it knows this creates jobs and growth and can reduce costs elsewhere. From research and development funding to innovation in healthcare grants to regional growth funding, one of the roles of government is to stimulate the private sector. And it is a regular partner in transport startups.
So, when a few months after the Transport Secretary’s statements, FlyPlymouth submitted its plan as part of the DfT Study, it submitted a particular version of the plan which showed how we would fast-track the reintroduction of commercial air services – that involved acquiring, recommissioning and reopening Plymouth Airport and creating a new base airline within two years. This plan comprised a package of private sector investment supported by Government funds in the form of loans and Regional Air Connectivity Funding (RACF). The RACF would support the airline through the first three years of operations into breakeven.
The loans - which are repayable - would help secure private sector investment making this go further. The RACF (see link below) is a DfT structured fund designed to assist new regional airline routes get to break even by supporting the early years in which passengers are beginning to use the services. The DfT created this fund because it recognises that it is both needed and provides a huge return on value to the economy. And RACF generates air passenger duties that see the public purse reimbursed many times over. So both the Loans and RACF have payback to the Government. This is very different to Government bailing out a loss-making operation.
3. No Ongoing Operational Subsidy
But the key to the plan submitted by FlyPlymouth to the DfT – and the point that the BBC missed - is that it would get the airport and airline to breakeven and into profit so that it would operate profitably on an ongoing basis WITHOUTH the need for an ongoing subsidy.
Now, the Department for Transport also regularly subsidises a good number of otherwise loss-making regional aviation routes – including the Newquay to Gatwick service which would otherwise be unviable without subsidy. But while these subsidies exist, FlyPlymouth chose NOT to assume that it might make use of them and made the plan stand up on its own. There is no reason why Plymouth should be a special stand-alone case for zero support, but that was our plan.
The BBC should properly have quoted the DfT Study as saying that air services would not have been viable without subsidy ‘IN THE EARLY YEARS’. That is because our plan requested Government startup support to break even through the first three years. Just like the Transport Secretary implied would be expected of us.
Where Does that Leave Us?
Oddly enough, all of this is largely immaterial now because the Government has decided not to look at the viability of Plymouth Airport, but of Scheduled Passenger Air Services to and from Plymouth Airport. The Local Authority meanwhile has safeguarded the airport for GENERAL AVIATION use until 2031 – which means all aviation BUT scheduled services. So the DfT Study when it is published will not inform the local process which is all about GA.
And FlyPlymouth has submitted its plan to acquire the airport and reinstate General Aviation through the use of private funds. And as it stands, our airport-only plan does not require subsidy national or local, start up or ongoing! That said, we are smart enough to reserve the right to accept Government help with either our airport or airline plans should it be offered! The door is open, as they say.
The Transport Secretary at Plymouth Airport:
Launch of the Regional Air Connectivity Fund
Today the Government approved that a new third runway be built at London Heathrow. The first aircraft is not expected before 2025 and there will be challenges along the way. But what does this development herald for Plymouth? A brief potted history might help.
In 1998, BA Regional the airline serving Plymouth at that time, transferred the city’s four to five times daily London routes from Heathrow to Gatwick. Despite the Government’s suggestions that it would ringfence Heathrow slots for regional routes. Then, in 2011, Plymouth was squeezed out of Gatwick as capacity there became scarcer and the value of slots greater. At the end of 2011 Air South West was gone and Plymouth Airport had been closed.
In other words, frequent London hub connections drove scheduled services to Plymouth. We lost London, we lost our airport. And, in the wake of the loss of Heathrow links, some fourteen large employers left Plymouth.
So what would a new Heathrow runway mean for Plymouth? Well, first to say that FlyPlymouth has a plan to acquire and operate Plymouth airport as a business and general aviation airport to build up services from nothing and pave the way for the reintroduction of scheduled air services. We are not relying on Heathrow to be profitable and sustainable.
And yet, a new runway at Heathrow would potentially be transformative for Plymouth’s economic performance over the coming decades. Living and working in Plymouth will mean a lot more if we are connected into one of the world’s major aviation hubs with a 45 minute flight.
But can Plymouth expect a slice of the action? Well, today’s comments from the Prime Minister and Transport Secretary are encouraging. They are at pains to emphasise that a new runway at Heathrow is the best solution “for the whole of Britain”. The Prime Minister added: “By making sure we improve the links between regional airports and our capital city we can use airport expansion as an opportunity to bring the UK closer together.” Perhaps Plymouth will get to share in some of the benefits others have enjoyed with the Northern Powerhouse, HS2 and CrossRail programs.
It is not just Government that has been positive. Heathrow Airport and its independent research project, the National Connectivity Task Force both mentioned Plymouth in particular as an example of the airports that should benefit from a new runway at Heathrow. This view was echoed by the Davies Commission and the British Infrastructure Group.
So, today, FlyPlymouth begins a ten year lobbying project to ensure that these promises are delivered on and Plymouth does indeed get a share of new runway capacity at Heathrow. (We seem to be good at long term persistence). Of course this will only be meaningful if in the meantime, we hold on to our airport as Plymouth City Council clearly intends to do.
The rationale for the safeguarding and reopening of Plymouth Airport just got a whole lot stronger.
Britain's smaller airports have been disproportionately damaged by recent policy, making nonsense of the Government's intentions according to an influential group of MPs. A study just published by the British Infrastructure Group (BIG), says that the closure and partial closure of airports such as Plymouth wastes capital investment, disperses staff, and impoverishes local areas. The Group, led by Grant Shapps MP comprises 42 MPs including Oliver Colvile and emphasises the importance of Britain's infrastructure to the country's economic growth.
The report, called 'Gate Now Closing', says that Britain's smaller airports provide 60% of the country's airport capacity and are important as feeders for hub airports and beacons for local investment and employment. While it acknowledges successive governments have invested in roads, railway lines the report is concerned that smaller airports have been hit by government policy and are at risk of closing.
Among BIG's recommendations are that regulation should be more friendly towards smaller airports; funding for start up and outlying routes should be improved; and that the development of enterprise zones around airports should be fast tracked.
Download the full report online: BIG: Gate Now Closing
Infrastructure drives economic growth. The South West is peripheral and becoming ever-more cut off from the world’s economic centre of gravity.
We have an aging demographic profile and need economic growth to pay for increased social services, health care and pensions.
The pace of change in a digital world is rapidly increasing and people are travelling in ever-greater numbers as knowledge replaces commodities in terms of economic importance.
Cities are our engines of prosperity, even in mainly rural areas like the South West and to afford health and social security for our citizens in old age, we need growing prosperous cities, powered by good transport connections.
To provide opportunities for the young we need jobs in the digital and technology sectors and the fastest rate of jobs growth is in industries in which people are most mobile.
While digital technologies make routine communications faster, this also means that markets are more global and demand for travel increases.
The South West needs to adapt and be connected and this is the logic that drives FlyPlymouth’s case and which motivates our determination to restore Plymouth’s aviation links.
So where are we today?
We have a Victorian railway system with journey times the same as they were a century ago and that is crippled by a single point of failure at Dawlish. Our motorway ends at Exeter and there are no plans to upgrade the A38.
Yet there is a perfectly good, local airport sitting mothballed at Roborough.
The Government has to make tough investment choices with limited economic room to manoeuvre and recent developments suggest that, where investment in rail is planned, it is not earmarked for our region meaning that, surely, we should make better use of what we already have.
The South West needs a thriving network of airports each of which fulfils a unique role. Bristol Airport is in practice the South West’s regional airport with a wide range of carriers, routes and low cost airlines and it will always handle the bulk of local leisure passengers.
Local airports, at Newquay and Exeter, serve smaller, distinct markets and are more than 80 miles apart.
These local airports suffered challenges in the financial crisis. Cornwall Airport Newquay remains publicly subsidised; Exeter’s Airport was loss making, then sold.
Meanwhile Land’s End Airport struggled with grass runways until recently. Plymouth airport was closed four years ago by its property-developing leaseholder, which cited mounting losses as the reason. They have now predictably put forward a plan to redevelop the site. Plymouth City Council, which owns the land, has rightly protected the site for aviation use until 2031 under the Plymouth Plan and the Government is now examining the potential for the airport to be reopened.
With the forced exception of Plymouth, all the airports are now bouncing back: the economy and passenger traffic is growing again, confidence has risen, and fuel prices have fallen.
The Government has introduced the Regional Air Connectivity Fund to support regional air services and FlyPlymouth is preparing to take advantage of this with its plan to re-open Plymouth Airport and resume passenger services in 2018. The time to act has never been better.
With plans to grow its population to more than 300,000 people by 2031, Plymouth should be an engine of regional economic growth but it needs good connectivity to meet the demands of a connected world. Plymouth’s priority need is transport over housing.
The re-opening of its airport will not just be good for the city but good for the South West. The 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America is an opportunity to boost tourism in 2020 and after the shocks of defence cutbacks in the 1990s, Plymouth is on the up.
However, it struggles to attract investment and keep successful start-up businesses because, to an outsider, it appears to be cut off. When a storms lashes the railway and accidents block the A38, that perception becomes grim reality.
The South West is a place of beauty and opportunity.
In a world where ideas and people travel further and faster than ever before, we need every bit of transport infrastructure working to keep every part of our region connected and our people prosperous, even if this requires local authorities to take tough decisions for the greater good.
Given this context, doesn’t it make overwhelming sense to maximise what we have got and to reopen an asset that will improve Plymouth’s connectivity at a stroke? FlyPlymouth is ready and willing to do just that.
In the Spring Budget the Chancellor George Osborne announced a Government Study into the viability of re-opening Plymouth Airport. The study is being undertaken by the Department for Transport. FlyPlymouth has been closely involved in the preparations for the study.
Initially it had been hoped that it would be concluded by Christmas. However, in common with many infrastructure projects, delays occur for a variety of reasons. We now expect the study to be concluded some time in 2016.
We remain in close contact with our MPs regarding the Government's role in supporting the re-opening of Plymouth Airport and are confident the outcome of the study will conclude that Plymouth Airport is a vital part of the South West's transport infrastructure and is capable of being operated successfully.
We were pleased to see that Plymouth City Council adopted a number of the modifications we proposed to the first draft of Part 1 of the Plymouth Plan. This included protection of the airport airspace against incompatible development.
Part 1 of the Plymouth Plan sets out the main strategy for development in the city until 2031. Speculation that the airport might be redeveloped for housing failed to recognise that there are other locations in and around the city that can serve the need for new homes, but there is only one location where an airport can be located and that is the present site.
Part 2 of the Plymouth Plan has been issued in draft form and is open for the collection of views until January 2016. To have your say in Part 2 visit the Plymouth Plan website.
It has been widely reported that a decision on expansion of runway capacity in South East England will be delayed into 2016 while further studies into environmental effects are evaluated. This clearly demonstrates the difficulties of developing new runways and demonstrates the wisdom of Plymouth City Council's policy to safeguard Plymouth Airport for aviation use in the Plymouth Plan.
FlyPlymouth's plans are not affected by the issue of runway capacity in the South East. London is just one of the routes that we plan to operate from Plymouth and while connections to Heathrow would be desirable we haven't assumed they will happen for at least 10 years. Plymouth could benefit significantly from flights to and from an inter-continental hub airport and we would like to deliver this as soon as possible irrespective of any decision on new runway capacity in South East England.
Last year the Government published its General Aviation Strategy, which was aimed at growing the UK's £3 Billion per year general aviation industry. The strategy promised to boost planning policy protection to protect a network of general aviation airfields across the UK and thus boost economic growth.
However, there was a potential planning policy anomaly because previously developed land is generally regarded as being more appropriate for new development than "greenfield" land. This lead to speculation that getting planning permission to develop airfields for other uses would be easier than greenfield land. A parliamentary petition was raised to "Keep airfields greenfields". You can read and sign the petition here
The Government has issued a response to the petition that clarifies the status of airfields. In summary, the clarification makes it clear that the open spaces at airfields (i.e. runways, taxiways and other open land) should not be assumed to be suitable for redevelopment for other uses.
FlyPlymouth has welcomed the appointment of Lord Adonis as head of the new National Infrastructure Commission by the Chancellor George Osborne. As part of this the government will bring forward sales of land, buildings and other assets the government bought or built, raising up to £5 billion over the course of this Parliament. The funds from these sales will be recycled to help fund new infrastructure projects.
Lord Adonis, former transport secretary under the previous Labour government visited the Airport as part of his visit to Plymouth in May 2015.
Whilst at the airport Lord Adonis said."I think we should work with FlyPlymouth to see what's possible. Plymouth desperately needs improved connections. There is a role for improved air connections and we need much faster rail journey times between Plymouth and London."
Raoul Witherall, Chief Executive of FlyPlymouth shared "It's clear Lord Adonis has an appreciation for the challenges Plymouth has in connecting with London and other major cities. A reopened airport will more than half the connection times to the capital and that can only be good for attracting inward investment and creating jobs. We are delighted with his appointment".
The future of Plymouth Airport has been a hot topic in the City since its closure generating one of the largest petitions to the local authority in the history of the Plymouth.
It's not just a local issue however, in the March budget, George Osborne announced a review into the airport by the Department for Transport.
On the review, Mr Witherall commented "We are optimistic about the review as it will bring clarity for the airport and evidence the value the airport adds to the City. We are actively working with the Department for Transport and look forward to the publishing of their findings in December".
Editors Note:  At the time of Lord Adonis' quote FlyPlymouth was operating under the name of Viable. The quote has been adapted to reflect the rebranding.
In his March Budget Statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the Government would carry out a study into whether there are viable options for the reopening of Plymouth airport. This study has now commenced and is expected to be published by the end of the year. FlyPlymouth is among the stakeholders that the Department for Transport is consulting with to produce this study.
Among other evidence FlyPlymouth will be submitting its business plans and funding strategy to be considered in the study. These plans are based on new passenger demand and economic impact data produced by York Aviation and have been developed together with some of the UK's most senior aviation experts.
FlyPlymouth's plans envisage the recommissioning of the airport by 2017 and the introduction of a new base airline by 2018. There is clear evidence to show that a profitable airport and airline business can be reintroduced and sustained based on existing demand and airport infrastructure without the support of an operational subsidy from the local authority.
FlyPlymouth has been making a series of detailed business plan presentations to business leaders in the city over the summer where attendees have been invited to freely question the management team. These presentations have been well received and added to confidence that Plymouth Airport has a prosperous future in aviation while improving connectivity, creating some 200 jobs and boosting the City's economy by £15-25 million each year.
FlyPlymouth the social enterprise behind the bid to reopen Plymouth Airport has launched a prize draw to win a personal flight over the City of Plymouth. As part of their initiative to raise the profile of their two year plan, Richard Crocker, a private pilot has offered to take one lucky winner in a private plane over the City,
Richard Crocker, Chief Operating Officer of FlyPlymouth stated: "We really want to stir up and encourage the community to get behind us, support us and so this is a great way to give someone an amazing experience seeing the wonderful sites we have in our City from the air. I love being a private pilot and I love Plymouth, so I am delighted to take someone out in a plane and let them see what I see".
FlyPlymouth launched last month from at a packed public meeting at University of St Mark and St John. Their vision and mission is create a credible and financially sustainable Airport for the City. Launching a crowdfunding project on May 11th to raise funding to engage aviation industry experts to validate their business plan, over the £13,000 has already been donated by residents and businesses across the City.
Raoul Witherall, Chief Executive said "To enter the flight draw people need to visit our website or Facebook page and simply share / retweet one of the posts we have made with the hashtag #FlyPlymouth. If people are not technically savvy they can write to us at our address and request to enter".
"It's an exciting opportunity for someone to really have a great experience and see Plymouth from the air. We hope that running this draw, we can ramp up the awareness of the benefits that a reopened airport will bring for the City".
FlyPlymouth will draw names and notify the winner on 7th July 2015.
FlyPlymouth has launched a Crowdfunder campaign to raise seed funding for the planning and development of their plan to reopen Plymouth Airport.
On Friday 8th May 2015, Raoul Witherall, Chief Executive of FlyPlymouth set out the company’s vision to see the airport reopened within two years and a new airline created within three. “It is time now for Plymouth to focus on reopening its airport and connecting with the world.For this we need a new vehicle, one that can deliver on reopening the airport, creating a new airline and partnering together with Plymouth to achieve this. FlyPlymouth is that vehicle.”
Anyone wishing to support the Crowdfunder campaign can visit Crowdfunder Plymouth Airport.
FLYPLYMOUTH TO REOPEN PLYMOUTH AIRPORT IN
TWO YEARS, CREATE NEW AIRLINE IN THREE
VIABLE BRINGS “SAVE PLYMOUTH AIRPORT” CAMPAIGN TO AN END
Viable’s three and a half year campaign to save Plymouth airport came to end this evening
with the launch of FlyPlymouth, a new entity created to reopen the airport and reintroduce air
Following a recent visit to the airport by the Secretary of State for Transport who said “The
door was open to government support for the airport” and speaking to a packed meeting at
the University of St Mark and St John, Raoul Witherall, FlyPlymouth’s chief executive set out
the company’s vision to see the airport reopened within two years and a new airline created
“Viable set out in 2011 to carry the flag for those who wished to see Plymouth rethink its
approach to air connectivity. The objective was to save Plymouth airport from redevelopment
and now that objective has been largely achieved with the airport’s protection in the Plymouth
“It is time now for Plymouth to focus on reopening its airport and connecting with the world.
For this we need a new vehicle, one that can deliver on reopening the airport, creating a new
airline and partnering together with Plymouth to achieve this. FlyPlymouth is that vehicle.”
“FlyPlymouth is a locally-based social enterprise focused on providing aviation services.
Being constituted as a company limited by guarantee means that profits will be recycled into
the business rather than being extracted by private shareholders. We are seeking a short
lease rather than securing freehold interests which have the potential to destabilise the
business. These factors will contribute to a sustainable solution that is right for Plymouth
Asked why FlyPlymouth would succeed where others had given up, Richard Crocker,
FlyPlymouth’s Chief Operating Officer explained that “Rather than going for another low cost
volume model, our plans for the airport and airline are adapted to the facilities that exist and
needs of the proven passenger market. We have a stepped plan that is designed to be
profitable at each stage”
“By 2018, a new airline will provide daily services to a range of destinations including
London,” he said.
Both London Heathrow and Gatwick airports have recently expressed interest in supporting
the reopening of Plymouth airport.
FlyPlymouth will raise £150,000 seed money over the coming months to deliver essential
pre-revenue work. Funded largely out of business and private contributions, this will enable
vital preparation such as detailed business planning, due diligence and legal support required
to reopen the airport.
The airport and airline business plans themselves are to be financed through a separate
multi-million pound package accessed at a later stage once the business has secured a
For further information visit www.flyplymouth.com