Airport defies expectations, posts 5% growth

Last year was one of the worst on record for the aviation industry; few months were left unblemished by chaos. Fog delayed flights, volcanoes blackened European skies, and the recession ate airlines at an unprecedented pace. Then, just as chief executives thought the worst was over, snow began to fall on roads, roofs, and naked trees, forcing closures at the vast majority of UK airports.

Edinburgh Airport, for example, was shut down 8 times in just over two months, while Southampton Airport is alleged to have lost almost a quarter (22%) of its festive passengers due to snow and ice. Doomsayers would have been justified in predicting a shaky start to 2011, but officials at Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport have revealed that the conditions facing the aviation industry are not as dismal as expected. The Yorkshire hub achieved growth of 5% during 2010, quite a feat for an airport that has historically struggled to stay open during clement conditions.

According to Civil Aviation Authority figures, Penzance Heliport and Scatsta Airport in the Shetlands also had a productive year, increasing annual traffic by 4.1% and 3.5% respectively. Leeds, Belfast City, Liverpool, and Bristol were the only other hubs in the UK to post growth in 2010. Plymouth Airport, on the other hand, lost almost 40% of its annual traffic, as beleaguered airline, Air Southwest, announced plans to downsize its operation at the Devon hub. Cardiff, Newquay, and Durham airports have also found themselves without enough fingers to count their losses on.

Mike Morton, chief at Robin Hood Airport, said that the traffic boost, equating to an extra 43,781 people overall, was “fantastic news” for the hub. Whether Doncaster can continue its run of good luck into 2011 is debatable, but the hub’s prospects have improved drastically since the addition of new routes to Faro, Portugal, and Tenerife in the Canary Islands, courtesy of budget airline, Ryanair. The airport claims that the two flights could lure an extra 60,000 annual travellers to the former RAF base.

Robin Hood Airport handled 37,513 passengers during December 2010 and 895,136 flyers over the whole year.

Anger at airport housing project

Bosses at Robin Hood Airport have been granted planning permission to construct 750 new homes and a business park on the hub’s doorstep, according to South Yorkshire newspaper, The Star. The news comes after Doncaster Council identified the development as a ‘key’ site for industry at a meeting on January 11 2011.

With the property market still foundering in the recession’s roiling sea, choosing to spend a fortune on the construction of new properties might seem a foolhardy venture, especially as Robin Hood’s new project will be built within a few miles of the airport, where demand for housing is often meagre, at best. However, airport bosses are convinced that the housing scheme will force developers to invest in the controversial FARRRS (Finningley and Rossington Regeneration Route Scheme) motorway link, as the former project cannot exist without the latter.

FARRRS, linking the airport to the M18 motorway, has been delayed and underfunded for almost as long as Doncaster Airport has been open to the public. Yet, both Doncaster Council and Peel Airports, the current owner of Robin Hood, consider the FARRRS road to be a vital part of the Yorkshire airport’s future, capable of generating around £1bn in additional income. Sadly, at least for Doncaster and Peel Airports, the government is not interested in the FARRRS project:

“The government has indicated that FARRRS will not be seen as a priority in its current spending review,” explained Andy Gutherson, assistant director of planning at Doncaster Council. The young airport, together with whatever investors it can pluck from the local area, must therefore plug an estimated £11m funding shortfall in the FARRRS project with money from its own pocket. Of course, anybody with an interest in South Yorkshire aviation (a niche subject), will know that Robin Hood Airport has a history of debt problems, making direct investment unlikely at present.

Whilst airport bosses have not commented on the total cost of Robin Hood’s housing project, or how much money can be squeezed from future residents, the project is being made a “priority” by Doncaster Council, as the absence of key transport links around the airport is causing problems for local businesses. “We struggle to get people to into work here,” said councillor, Yvonne Woodcock.

However, despite the council’s enthusiasm for the scheme, many local residents have been left confused and angry. Householders have accused Doncaster Council of "overriding" its promise to protect the rural environment, by setting a “precedent” for the construction of buildings on valuable green belt land. Equally, nearby schools, already over-subscribed with children, could face serious problems if subjected to an influx of new pupils.

On the flip side, the FARRRS road and the housing development could create thousands of new jobs, and make Doncaster Airport a target for foreign investors. There is a “real appetite” among business leaders to work with the South Yorkshire hub, according to Peel Airports’ Peter Nears.

Animals aplenty at Robin Hood

Thomson Airways
and Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster, have been doing a brisk trade in ‘pet passports’ according to local newspaper The Star.

The airport was visited by almost 100 furry passengers in 2010, with Paphos in Cyprus proving to be the most popular holiday destination for domestic pets flying from South Yorkshire.

Robin Hood’s pet passport scheme is operated by Anglo European Express, a cargo firm based on the airport grounds. The company has a license to transport dogs, cats and ferrets that have been verified as disease-free by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, otherwise known as DEFRA.

Pets can travel to the UK’s closest neighbours – Spain, France, Italy, Germany and even Greenland – or somewhere exotic, such as Australia, Bahrain or the island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

Whilst Rover and Tiddles might not appreciate the difference between a moonlit stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris and a jaunt down a cracked pavement in the centre of Doncaster, the pet passport scheme helps take the heartache out of leaving a beloved family pet in kennels or, even worse, with the in-laws.

Thomson Airways claims that more than 1,600 animals were transported from six UK airports in 2010, including the 100 or so that departed from Robin Hood. The most common species of traveller was, of course, the dog, with 1,147 carried. Parrots, hawks, lemurs and nature’s slugabed, the tortoise, were also booked onto flights to Europe and beyond.

Despite the apparent popularity of pet passports, the scheme is likely to have limited appeal to holidaymakers, given the added expense of purchasing the license and the difficulty of finding pet-friendly hotels abroad. However, emigrating Brits and those lucky few with properties in warmer climes will pounce on the opportunity to throw a ball for their own disinterested feline on a white sandy beach.

For more information about pet passports, visit the Heathrow Airport Guidesl Pet Travel Guide.

‘Lethal haul’ seized at Doncaster

Whilst most travellers like to buy souvenirs, an increasing number of holidaymakers are choosing to eschew the traditional straw donkeys, snow globes, and miniature Eiffel Towers, to bring something a little more unusual home for their grandmother – illegal weapons.

Following on from a recent arrest at Bristol Airport in November, in which a 20-year-old man was captured trying to smuggle ten weapons through security, police at Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster, have revealed that more than 100 different weapons have been taken from travellers at the South Yorkshire hub in 2010.

The “lethal haul,” to quote local newspaper, The Star, included items such as samurai swords, CS (or ‘tear’) gas canisters, imitation guns, and knuckledusters. The majority of the items originated in seven European resorts served by Robin Hood: notably, Prague in the Czech Republic, the Balearic Island of Ibiza, and Dalaman, Turkey.

Police say that the weapons were seized as part of a major crackdown on smuggling at Doncaster Airport. In one arrest, earlier this year, a mother and her son were collared trying to take 14 weapons through security. The pair had recently disembarked a flight from Bourgas, Bulgaria.

Despite this article’s rather facetious opening paragraph, many smugglers do regard the weapons as souvenirs, or so they claim. Liam Dimond, for example, the man arrested at Bristol Airport in November, told police that the stun gun and throwing stars in his suitcase were decorations, destined for his bedroom wall.

Speaking about the weapons seized at Doncaster, Andy Lumb, boss at the UK Border Agency in Yorkshire, said that knives and guns are not “holiday trinkets or souvenirs,” noting the potential for “serious injury or even death” to the culprit or his or her enemies. “Let this crackdown be a warning to potential smugglers,” Lumb said.

Lithuania and Lanzarote from Doncaster

Robin Hood Airport has two more flights to sell to local ‘sun and sea’ enthusiasts, thanks to the efforts of Hungarian airline, WizzAir, and the UK’s third largest carrier, Thomson Airways. The pair already has a strong presence at the South Yorkshire hub, offering around thirty routes between them.

WizzAir, sporting livery that would make easyJet tremble, provides all of Robin Hood’s routes to Poland, which makes the carrier’s new flight to Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius, seem like an innovation. The airline has claimed Vilnius International Airport as its latest continental base, and will connect the Lithuanian hub to Doncaster on April 17 2011.

“We are pleased to announce that Yorkshire’s first service to the Baltic States will be flying from Doncaster,” Robin Hood chief, Nick Smillie, said. Nick expects WizzAir’s new route to attract an extra 30,000 people a year to the airport.

, arguably the largest airline at Doncaster, offering 24 routes to holiday hotspots, will add a new route of its own in November 2010, to the Canary Island of Lanzarote. The flight will operate once a week for the duration of the winter season.

Lanzarote is one of nine routes to the Spanish mainland and islands offered by Thomson at Robin Hood Airport. The airline shares its domination of the local market with its sister company, First Choice, which offers package holidays to much the same locations. Nick Smillie noted that the Lanzarote route, the airport’s second, was added due to "great customer support and demand."

First Choice, purveyor of all sorts of holidays, has pounced on Thomson’s new route, by advertising a seven night stay at the Holiday Village near the idyllic Flamingo Beach, Lanzarote. The package is all-inclusive, and includes return flights to Doncaster Airport. Prices begin at £399 per person.

Robin Hood dumped by EasyJet

, is to abandon all flights out of Robin Hood Airport from January 4 2011.

Nick Smillie, the Yorkshire hub’s sales director, noted that a number of "operational restrictions" had contributed to easyJet’s sudden exodus, just four months into its residency, including a number of awkward take-off times, due to aircraft being stationed at other airports.

EasyJet is the second major airline to end operations at Robin Hood, after bitter rival, Ryanair, announced a cull of all winter flights from the airport in August 2009.

The move could result in the loss of 23 routes from Doncaster, including lucrative flights to Amsterdam in Holland, Faro in Portugal, Palma in Majorca, Barcelona in Spain, and Prague in the Czech Republic.

Airport bosses claim that easyJet’s routes to ‘sun and sea’ destinations were flying at 99% capacity, suggesting that the airline’s impending escape is not financially motivated.

Robin Hood will now need to pester other airlines into covering some of the cancelled flights, to prevent valid tickets going to waste.

Whilst not unheard of – easyJet and Flybe recently saved travellers stranded when Ryanair withdrew services at Belfast City – the Doncaster hub will need to move quickly if it is to secure replacements before the winter lull.

A lone aircraft will be transferred from Robin Hood to Liverpool in January, ending easyJet’s brief liaison with South Yorkshire. The carrier’s employees will also be sent to other UK airports, such as Gatwick, and easyJet’s spiritual home, Luton.

Nick Smillie was unhappy with the loss of easyJet’s routes, “We are naturally very disappointed. We were really proud of getting a big-name carrier. We cannot deny this is a setback."

Local newspaper, the Free Press, called the news a "massive blow" for the Doncaster hub.

Filming begins at Doncaster-Sheffield

Robin Hood Airport is to become the partial setting of a new TV comedy entitled ‘Come Fly with Me.’

The serial, which features David Walliams and Matt Lucas, the two men behind the popular sketch show Little Britain, is expected to be a parody of airport ‘reality’ shows such as the long-running docu-soap Airline.

Come Fly with Me consists of the traditional six episodes, featuring ‘all new’ characters played by Walliams and Lucas. The show should air on BBC One in the run-up to Christmas.

Lucas and Walliams spent a fortnight at Robin Hood in August filming scenes for their new project.

Yorkshire newspaper The Star indicates that Robin Hood will be just one of several UK hubs to feature in the program, suggesting that the airport setting featured in Walliam’s and Lucas’s show is fictional.

Come Fly with Me is likely to follow the format championed by Little Britain, Monty Python and The League of Gentlemen, in which a single actor can play several different roles by creating characters with clothing and make-up.

This style of comedy is notable for having few (if any) female leads, forcing men to dress as women.

Mark Freeland, the BBC’s head of comedy, was “proud and excited” to have Lucas and Walliams working with the corporation. “Also, it’ll be boom time once again for dress, wig and make-up suppliers in the UK,” he said.

A lone publicity shot on the BBC website has Walliams playing a moustachioed customs officer known as Ian, whilst his stage partner, Lucas, dons a huge beard and a bottle of fake tan for his character, Taaj.

Whether Ian and Taaj will return to Doncaster Airport in the future is currently unknown.

Doncaster to fly cats and dogs

Robin Hood Airport has become one of just six airports in the UK to issue a ‘pet passport’, allowing domestic animals to fly abroad with their owners. The scheme, which is run by local cargo firm Anglo European Express (AEE), is designed to ease the burden of having to put pets in quarantine before travel.

The scheme extends to just three types of animals, providing that they can comply with AEE’s stringent acceptance criteria. Dogs, cats, and, perhaps surprisingly, ferrets, are the only creatures that can enjoy the Pet Travel Scheme, so the nation’s cows and tarantulas will have to remain earth-bound for the time being.

Qualifying animals must be fitted with a microchip that stores their identity, and must also complete a nine-month preparation program. "Planning ahead", claims the Robin Hood website, is therefore "essential."

Pets must be immunized against rabies and attend regular booster sessions to guarantee the animal’s resistance to the virus. If Rover is not foaming at the mouth following his final check-up, a qualified Local Veterinary Inspector will issue the dog with a pet passport, valid for as long as the animal remains vaccinated against disease.

At present, the only airline that will carry pets out of Doncaster is Thomson, which means that pet-lovers can only travel to ‘sun and sea’ destinations such as Lanzarote, Alicante, and Rhodes. The budget carrier currently offers a total of 23 routes from Robin Hood, but this figure will fall to around nine when the winter season gets underway.

However, due to the thorough nature of the selection process, it is unlikely that any animal will take to the skies until the summer of next year at the very earliest.

Doncaster’s marketing chief, Jodi Stow, called the pet passport a "unique convenience" and continued to announce that the airport is “thrilled to offer pets and their owners this fantastic service. It is a huge privilege to be one of only a few airports in the UK to be offering the pet passport scheme".

For more information on the Pet Travel Scheme, you can visit this Pet Travel Guide.

Numbers booming at Doncaster

Robin Hood Airport helped more people to their holiday destinations in June 2010, than it did in the same period last year. Passenger numbers were up 16% on figures for June 2009, indicating that Doncaster finally has enough routes to coax travellers away from its larger rival, Leeds-Bradford Airport.

Flights to ‘sun and sea’ destinations were the main growth area, according to the airport’s director, Mike Morton, with routes to the city of Palma on Majorca, and Alicante in Spain, proving lucrative. Dalaman in Turkey, Faro in Portugal, and Katowice, Poland, were also popular with holidaymakers.

Robin Hood is attracting passengers from Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, as well as from Yorkshire, suggesting that Doncaster is snatching customers away from East Midlands Airport and the neighbouring, Humberside Airport. The latest traffic figures show that almost 110,000 people passed through the South Yorkshire hub in June.

“This is great news,” Mike Morton explained. “People are realising how much easier it is to fly from their local airport, and are looking to us when planning their trips.” Mr. Morton noted that Doncaster is now searching for new routes for the winter season, with announcements expected in the coming weeks.

Resident airline, Thomson, has also made an effort to secure Robin Hood’s future, by boosting capacity by 15,000 on the airport’s summer holiday routes, including flights to Malaga, Spain, and the already popular Dalaman. The airline will add the extra seats in time for the 2011 summer season.

The airport claims that forward sales for next year’s routes are already ‘strong.’

Extra 15,000 expected at Doncaster

An extra 15,000 people are expected to travel from Robin Hood’s terminal next year, after two holiday firms increased the number of seats available on six of the airport’s most popular ‘sun and sea’ routes.

Thomson] and First Choice, the two travel companies, have improved capacity by 9% on routes to Dalaman and Bodrum in Turkey, Mahon on Menorca, the Canary Island of Lanzarote, and Tunisia. Flights to Malaga in Spain are also expected to carry more passengers during the 2011 summer season.

Robin Hood, which is owned by Peel Airports, Ltd., was a local tabloid staple in 2009, following a spate of financial problems. The Doncaster hub has recovered admirably since then, however, attracting budget airline, EasyJet, and finally filling the scheduling void left by the departure of Ryanair in August last year.

The latest passenger boost is a huge vote of confidence for the Yorkshire airport, helping it contend with larger rival, Leeds-Bradford. Mike Morton, boss at Robin Hood, was ‘delighted’ with developments at the site – ‘We have been working to raise awareness of the routes we serve, and we are happy with this predicted growth looking forward.’

Robin Hood will be home to three Thomson aeroplanes next year – two Boeing 737-800s and a single 737-300, which is no longer produced anywhere in the world. Mike Morton intimated that ‘strong forward sales’ for holidays in 2010 had encouraged Thomson and First Choice to invest further in Doncaster-Sheffield Airport.

Irish carrier, Aer Lingus, has also added new routes to Robin Hood in recent months, including a daily service to Dublin, Ireland.

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