Jet2.com boss rules out planes ever returning to Blackpool

Philip Meeson, managing director of Jet2.com
Philip Meeson, managing director of Jet2.com
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Airline Jet2.com has all but ruled out a return to Blackpool - even if the airport did reopen to commercial traffic.

The Leeds-based carrier was forced to shut down all routes from Squires Gate when owner Balfour Beatty closed the airfield and terminal in October 2014.

The airport has since reopened under the ownership of Squires Gate Airport Operations – a firm set up by Balfour Beatty – without provision for jet airliners.

The terminal has been demolished, to be replaced with a new energy college, and fire cover has been reduced, meaning large jets are no longer able to land.

And while Balfour Beatty has not ruled out reopening to big jets in the future, should there be demand, Jet2.com boss Philip Meeson has told The Gazette his airline is now too well established at other bases to move back in at Squires Gate.

The airline has boosted its operation at Manchester, with 48 destinations being served next summer.

Mr Meeson, who is the managing director of Jet2 parent company Dart Group, said he did not believe Blackpool would re-open to holiday jets.

He said: “If I’m realistic I don’t think the door will re-open, sadly. That’s the realism I think.

“We did not want to leave.

“We were very disappointed to leave. But now we’re gone, we’re gone. We’re very very sorry, we’re very disappointed it happened.”

The Jet2 boss was highly critical of Balfour Beatty over the way the closure had been carried out – accusing the firm of failing to invest in Blackpool.

Jet2 had two aircraft based at Blackpool and by 2014 was operating 11 different routes from the resort.

However the firm’s relationship with Blackpool Airport was not always straight forward, with the airline launching a successful court case for breach of contract.

Blackpool Airport management claimed late night and early morning operations by Jet2 were costly and unsustainable – forcing the airfield to operate at a loss.

The airline said it had a deal with Blackpool to ‘cooperate together and use their best endeavours to promote Jet2’s low cost services.’

That, said Jet2 bosses, included late night and early morning operations, which a judge agreed were accepted features of low cost airline operations.

Even following that dispute the closure of the airport was one Mr Meeson found hard to stomach.

“It was sad,” he said. “I think we were very disappointed. This was Balfour Beatty which owned the airport.

“They just wanted to cut costs, they didn’t put any effort into expanding. We tried to stay there as long as we could but in the end they were being very difficult indeed. We did actually have a court case against them, which we won.

“But they still wanted to close the airport.”

Balfour Beatty’s sale of Blackpool Airport to Squires Gate Airport Operations was one move which particularly concerned Mr Meeson.

He said: “They put the airport into administration. And then they bought it back.”

The closure of airline operations at Blackpool was a blow to thousands of passengers – many of whom had seen the resort as a quieter alternative to Manchester and Liverpool.

At its peak in 2007 Blackpool handled more than half a million passengers.

Those numbers declined following the departure of Ryanair, which withdrew flights from Blackpool in 2008 following a dispute over the £10 per passenger development fee imposed by Balfour Beatty.

Then the Irish carrier warned the future was bleak for Squires Gate. Ryanair’s withdrawal from Blackpool led to the annual loss of more than 200,000 passengers.

Monarch also withdrew from the resort leaving Jet2’s Boeing 737s the only large aircraft operating from the resort.

When the airport shut, Jet2 and Aer Lingus Regional were still flying out of the terminal, alongside smaller operator CityWing which retains an operation at Blackpool.

And Mr Meeson understands why people on the Fylde coast are so frustrated.

“We have a very loyal following,” he said. “We still send emails to our Blackpool friends.

“People who are members of My Jet2 still get messages.

“They are going to Manchester, which is not that far away but it’s further than just popping to the airport in Blackpool which is so close to the town.”

A spokesman for Balfour Beatty said: “Since the airport reopened in 2014, Balfour Beatty has returned Blackpool Airport to a profitable business. We have invested significantly to commence services in support of offshore gas production, as well as instigate small-scale passenger flights to the Isle of Man and Belfast.”