Air traffic controllers 'vital' to Blackpool Airport growth

A library picture of air traffic controllers at Blackpool AirportA library picture of air traffic controllers at Blackpool Airport
A library picture of air traffic controllers at Blackpool Airport
Blackpool Airport is missing out on potential growth because a shortage of air traffic controllers has forced the runway to close at times, a councillor has warned.

Conservative councillor Jason Roberts, who works in the airline industry, said the council-owned air hub was losing out on landing fees and growth in business flights.

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But council chiefs say they have now recruited additional controllers and should be fully staffed by the end of January.

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Coun Roberts, whose Stanley ward includes part of the airport, said he had met with businesses on the Squires Gate airfield who said they had seen operating growth.

But further potential was being 'hampered' because the runway has to be closed at some times of the day to enable air traffic controllers to take a break.

Coun Roberts said: "Almost all the businesses I have talked with have seen their operation grow within the last year.

"Business general aviation is thriving with quick handling and short travel times.

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"Flight training for both private pilots licence and first step commercial licence also has increased year on year.

"However, air traffic control (ACT) closures and the method of closure for up to 45 minutes is hampering this growth.

"Whilst the ATC team are working hard to train and recruit controllers, more must be done quickly by the leadership team and council to resolve this now."

Coun Roberts said Blackpool Airport was well placed to benefit from an increase in business jet use but operators needed assurances the runway was open at all times.

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He added: "Closing the runway is the safest thing to do as the air traffic controllers need to have a rest.

"But three closures a day is impacting on tenants. For example, that can mean 12 lessons a day lost for a flying school if it operates four planes.

"Also, the council is losing out on landing fees."

Alan Cavill, director of regeneration at Blackpool Council, said there had been difficulties recruiting air traffic controllers but these had now been resolved.

Currently there are three 45-minute breaks during the airport operating hours of 7am to 9pm when air traffic controllers are taking a break.

Operators are told in advance when the closures will be.

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Mr Cavill said all airports were currently struggling to recruit air traffic controllers, but Blackpool had now got a full team of eight controllers and four assistants.

However controllers are not allowed to operate solo until they have worked for six months at the airport. Two controllers are still going through this process and the final one will have completed it by the end of January.

Mr Cavill added: "Once we are fully staffed the airport will operate all the time between 7am and 9pm, and we have also built some resilience into the system."