A controversial new plan to secure the future of Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport has been unveiled to local enterprise councillors. The scheme, which outlines business targets and employment opportunities for the next twenty two years, is not expected to produce any tangible results in the next decade despite growing concern about the airport’s financial viability.
Peel Holdings, the owner of Robin Hood, plan to build an aviation training centre and a new freight-integration site at the airport before 2030. Two housing estates, a golf course, and a four-star hotel have also been considered as potential solutions to the airport’s growing debt problem.
The airport is currently restricted by a noise regulation order that limits the type of aircraft that can visit the site. Major international businesses have refused to negotiate with Peel Holdings until the order is lifted. US logistical services company, FedEx, recently turned down an opportunity to base their operations at Doncaster amid fears that the airport could not properly accommodate its needs.
Peter Nears, a planning director at Peel Holdings, explained that the acquisition of freight companies is of paramount importance to the continuing survival of the Robin Hood site: “Cargo is probably the area which is most difficult for us. There are issues to do with constraints on the airport which make it unattractive to operators. We are well behind where we want to be.” Peel Holdings has applied to have the noise restrictions removed.
Thomson Holidays has handed Robin Hood another straw to clutch onto by expanding its current holiday services to include the Greek island of Kos and Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt. The two new routes are expected to begin accepting passengers by summer 2009.
Doncaster’s Robin Hood international airport is the second largest airport in Yorkshire but despite repeated attempts to obtain additional funds from the local council, the airport is currently facing hard times.
Robin Hood was opened in April 2005 at the expense of the decommissioned RAF Finningley airstrip. The airport was constructed as the centrepiece of a multi-million pound renovation project that saw the centre of Doncaster transformed into a haven for commerce and small businesses. Three years later and the young airport is at the centre of a great deal of controversy regarding its financial viability.
Peel Airports, the owners of Robin Hood, have been refused both tax relief and hardship funds by Doncaster council, sparking rumours that the company is unable to support prospective business and passengers. The single runway, which was originally constructed for long-range nuclear bombers, is currently running at 75% below capacity.
Doncaster’s freight and logistics sector have both ignored the airport, preferring instead to rely on traditional infrastructure and the international rail freight platform. Without the financial muscle of Doncaster’s burgeoning industrial areas, the airport suffered losses of almost £10 million in its first year. Council bosses are warning that if Peel Airports are unable to fill the coffers with their own money, their advertising budget will suffer. Perhaps more importantly, a failing business is of little value to the local government and Robin Hood may yet suffer the same fate as the nearby Sheffield City Airport, which was permanently closed earlier this year.
Robin Hood International has significant potential for expansion but unless the airport can attract an industrial cash-cow to its gates, its long-term future looks bleak.
It was revealed last week that South Yorkshire’s Robin Hood airport is losing approximately £1 m a month with politicians being urged to lend their support.
Airport officials are blaming the losses on a series of short-term hard hitting financial obstacles such as tax, fuel and security increases. Despite the momentous losses airport business leaders have expressed confidence that it is a temporary hitch, emphasising that whilst the airport is not making any money yet it is going in the right direction.
Nick Pakey, deputy chief of the Peel Group, who own a number of the country’s major airports, explained that because of huge investments early on in the airport’s development it would not be expected that the airport would be making money at this stage. That said, however, he did add that the current financial climate has hit the business hard and that the financial situation is worse than was originally predicted.
The Peel Group has invested £100 million in developing the regional airport and with over a million passengers a year they are confident that it has the potential for further growth. Over the last three years Robin Hood has become a busy regional airport and an important asset for Doncaster, providing services to over 40 destinations around the world. The airport recently received a further £10 million in Objective One Funding which is being used to develop industrial units at the airport’s business park. In addition, three business directors have been recruited to help the airport through the financial difficulties, with two directors specifically employed to develop the airline and cargo markets.
Robin Hood airport in Doncaster today celebrates its third birthday, marking the success of the airport as a gateway to the region and the rest of the world. Since 2005, the airport has grown at a rapid pace and, just three years on, it now serves 50 airports around the world (compared to just 17 in 2005) and can expect to handle at least a million passengers per year. The airport serves a range of both established and upcoming holiday destinations and significantly, it is the only airport in the area which offers flights to the emerging Polish destinations of Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Katowice and Warsaw.
Formerly the base for RAF Finningley, Robin Hood airport is one of the fastest growing airports in the country, well ahead of other more established regional airports. Since opening as a commercial airport, it has been used by 2.9 million passengers with an increase of almost 13% in use over the last year.
Over the past three years, the airport has also been central in improving economic growth to Doncaster and the surrounding area. According to Nick Smillie, Sales Director based at Robin Hood, the airport “is key to attracting inward investment and tourism growth, as well as serving business and leisure travellers from the region.” He continues, “our objective now is to build on this success by delivering further growth, including more routes to popular international destinations.”