Photo credit: calflier001
Less than two months ago the owners of Blackpool Airport, Balfour Beatty, announced that unless a buyer was found quickly the airport would close. The airport had been losing money over several years to an annual tune of £1.5 to £2 million. Sadly no buyer was found and so on Oct 15th at 5p.m. the final commercial flight took off for the Isle of Man and the airport closed officially an hour later. Flights to the rigs in the Irish Sea will still operate but there will be no more commercial flights.
It may have been the smallest airport in the UK but Blackpool had a long and rich history. It was one of the first aviation sites in the country when it opened in 1909 and was known then as Squires Field Airfield. That same year, a crowd of 200,000 were entertained by the famous French aviator Henri Farman.
Another famous name in the world of aviation history to have a link with Blackpool Airport was Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo to Australia. In 1941 she was carrying out wartime duties and set off from the airport on what was to be her final flight to RAF Kidlington. Her aircraft was found in the Thames but her body was never recovered. Tragedy struck the airport again in 2006 with the crash of a helicopter carrying Centrica workers to their oil rig.
Blackpool’s commercial flights have long been popular with all sorts of passengers. In 1936 it started operating commercial flights to the Isle of Man, branching out in the 1970s to Spain and what was then known as Yugoslavia.
It has always proved popular with the rich and famous because of its small size. Dignitaries such as the Sultan of Brunei have used the airport for a visit to the Lake District, safe in the knowledge that he would not encounter the world’s media. The Queen too has used the airport in the past and been able to maintain a low profile. It has of course also been used by stars performing in the town itself, notably Rod Stewart who appeared at Blackpool FC earlier this year.
It is not only VIPs who will miss the airport. Disappointment at the closure has been expressed by many contributors to a local forum who cited the small size and convenience as two real USPs for Blackpool Airport. Despite this, only 235,000 passengers used the airport last year, a far cry from the projected 2 million which the owners had hoped for when the airport was refurbished in 2006, just two years before it was sold to Balfour Beatty for £14 million.
Blackpool Council has said that there are grounds for believing that the airport has a “bright future”. Meanwhile the airport’s website states that “Work is currently underway with the independent aviation businesses and tenants at the airport to understand if their operations can continue in the future. Working in partnership with the local authorities, regeneration plans are also being developed which will be designed to create future employment and sustainable economic development opportunities for Blackpool and the Fylde Coast.” Meanwhile a meeting of creditors and staff has been held at a local hotel as a first step towards placing Blackpool Airport Ltd into voluntary liquidation.
Passengers who were due to fly from Blackpool with Jet2 have not been left in the lurch with flights now operating until further notice from Manchester Airport alongside Jet2’s existing Manchester service. Although Jet2 operated the lion’s share of flights from Blackpool, two other airlines were also affected: City Wing and Aer Lingus. These airlines have decided to cut the routes totally.
As of January 2009 Blackpool Airport offered free car parking for all departing passengers.
110 staff were employed at the airport and many of them were in tears as the airport closed. It is not only airport staff, however, who will feel the impact of the closure. ABTA has released a statement stressing that the closure of a local airport does not only have a negative effect on the local economy but on the wider economy of the North-West of England.
Ironically Blackpool Airport took third place in Which?’s vote for the best regional airport this summer but even this could not save it.