A pressure group fighting to bring back commercial airline flights to Blackpool has welcomed moves to make the resort’s airport part of a Lancashire enterprise zone.
The Save Blackpool Airport group has held talks with one of the bosses at Squires Gate to demand answers to questions over the resort’s aviation future.
The members questioned Paul Rankin from Squires Gate Airport Operations about why commercial airline operations failed; about the state of the runway; residential development at the former Pontins site; the controversial Airport Development Fund and about future development on the site.
SBA Chairman Rob Blower said they were pleased to have been given the chance to ask questions.
He said: “We are set to have a meeting with Blackpool Council’s John Jones and Alan Cavill too this week.
“We want to know more about the details of possible development from the enterprise zone. It is vital that nothing is done to shorten the runway because in years to come commercial flights may come back and we could have 737s landing there again.
“There is a lot of wasted space on the airport site and it would be good to see that developed. Maybe they could develop it to attract aviation-based industry such as aviation engineering or even plane breakers.”
He said Mr Rankin told them that the contracts the previous airport operating company had with the likes of Jet2 and Ryanair meant the airport operated at a loss.
Only the Bond Helicopters deal was profitable. Attempts to negotiate with the main airlines had failed.
“He said that they lost money every time airlines landed and that airlines control the airports, not the other way round. If the airline says jump, the airport asks, ‘How High?’”
Mr Blower said that on the Airport Development Fund, the company had carried out a study before hand which showed that a parking charge was forecast to raise £500,000 because Blackpool was a cul-de-sac and many passengers local, while the ADF brought in £800,000.
He said that the operating company had opposed plans to build houses at the former Pontins site and that an air corridor had been stipulated to protect the flight path.
“He (Mr Rankin) told us there were potentially 105 acres to develop for the enterprise zone north of the runway so it (the runway) would not need to be shortened. But we had to press him about whether the runway was being maintained for 737s.”
A spokesman for Squires Gate Airport Operations, which is part of the Balfour Beatty group, said: “The main runway is maintained to a standard required by regulation, (CAP168 Civil aviation Publication -Aerodrome Licensing) and is part of the requirements of the aerodrome licensing process, this position has not changed and the runway continues to be maintained as required.
“The ADF was introduced to financially support the airport and to enable the continuation of operations and allow investment in the infrastructure, including runway, taxiway, terminal improvements, car parks, fire station, ATC equipment and operational vehicles.”
Meanwhile, Lancashire Enterprise Partnership chairman Edwin Booth said: “Blackpool Airport is strategically important not just for the local area but for the economy of the county as a whole so we are happy to endorse the application to extend the Enterprise Zone.”
An enterprise zone offers tax concessions and reduced planning regulations in a bid to attract investment from private companies into the area.