The launch of passenger flights from a rival North West airport has prompted claims Blackpool Council has turned its back on chances to bring commercial airlines back to Blackpool Airport.
Scottish airline Loganair launched its first flights yesterday from Carlisle Lake District Airport, owned and operated by the Stobart Group, and will operate links with London, Southend, Belfast City and Dublin.
Loganair will use 33-seater aircraft to operate the flights, with nine return services on weekdays and five at weekends from the former RAF airfield.
Operator Jet2 ended holiday flights from Blackpool Airport – which branded itself “for Lancashire and the Lake District” – in October 2014.
The Squires Gate terminal was then put up for sale with Blackpool Council buying it in 2017 for £4.25m.
Since then the focus has been on creating the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone aimed at creating 5,000 jobs over 23 years, while preserving the runway and core aviation businesses.
But Coun Tony Williams, Conservative opposition group leader on Blackpool Council, said the move by Carlisle showed Blackpool could have done more to bring passenger flights back.
He said: “Well done to Carlisle Airport for recognising the tourism potential of a local airport unlike this council which is totally uninterested in investing in one of our own best assets.
“The opening of these routes by Loganair from the Lake District Airport will strengthen their own tourism numbers and probably be the last nail in Blackpool Airport’s coffin.
“I think it’s nothing short of an abject failure to safeguard the future of Blackpool Airport, and residents should now realise they cannot trust this council at all to protect and grow the town in a planned and co-ordinated way.
“The fact that Logan are flying to Dublin from Carlisle opens up the world to travellers.
“Dublin is an international airport flying to Europe’s holiday destinations and Canada and the USA. In fact you can even go through US immigration at the airport saving you the hassle and delays when you get to the US.
“Blackpool Council has irresponsibly let this huge advantage slip though our fingers.”
But Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said the local authority had never intended to bring back passenger flights.
He said: “When we purchased the airport site, we made it crystal clear immediately, that the purpose of the acquisition was not to reintroduce major passenger flights.
“It was to control the ownership and land usage of the site, to maximise the potential impact of the enterprise zone, and the employment opportunities therein. Coun Williams keeps trying to ignore this fact.”
A masterplan for Blackpool Airport unveiled by consultants York Aviation on behalf of the council last October said reintroducing commercial passenger services would result in financial losses of around £590,000 per year. The report said around 1.5m passengers a year would be needed to justify investment.
The council has borrowed £28.8m over the next three years for development of the enterprise zone, including £3.45m towards relocating and replacing older aircraft hangars, providing a new apron and a new offshore helicopter terminal.
The former passenger terminal was demolished to make way for the Lancashire Energy HQ, part of Blackpool and the Fylde College.
The operators behind Carlisle Airport say their flights will bring in tourists and make travel easier for people who live in Cumbria.
Kate Willard, director of partnership development at the Stobart Group, said: “Airports are symbols of confidence and this shows Cumbria is open for business.”
She said the launch was of “huge significance” for the Northern Powerhouse as it would connect regions and economies.
The carrier was initially due to resume flights in June last year but this was delayed due to a shortage of air traffic control staff.