Not so long ago travellers had very few airport choices, just the major hubs. Now we have a much better choice, including lots of smaller airports dotted around the country.
Many were originally built before and during World War Two, lay fallow for years afterwards and were then re-purposed as domestic airports to cater for the ever-increasing demand for convenient domestic and international flights close to home.
While the recession knocked passenger numbers for six across the nation, things are starting to turn around and regional hub development is back on the agenda. So we thought it’d be useful to take a fresh look at Britain’s regional airports.
What is a regional airport?
A regional airport is an airport serving traffic within a relatively small or lightly populated geographical area. A regional airport usually does not have customs and immigration facilities to process traffic between countries. In Canada regional airports usually service connections within Canada and some flights to the United States. A few U.S. regional airports, some of which actually call themselves international airports, may have customs and immigration facilities staffed on an as-needed basis, but the vast majority serve domestic traffic only.
Aircraft using these airports tend to be smaller business jets, private aircraft and regional airliners of both turboprop propelled or regional jetliner varieties. These flights usually go a shorter distance to a larger regional hub. These airports usually have shorter runways, which exclude heavy planes with much fuel.
About Britain’s regional airports
Britain’s local airports are usually close to cities and large towns, for example Bristol, Durham Tees Valley and Blackpool. And they’re getting bigger, offering more airlines, flights and routes as time goes by. Take Liverpool’s John Lennon airport, which originally offered a mere handful of flights but now provides routes to as many as 60 international destinations.
- There’s a list of all Britain’s airports here, including private airfields
- And here’s another list of UK airports, with a few handy sentences about each of them for quick reference plus links to official airport websites
Since we focus on airport parking, it’s also worth saying the parking at regional airports is usually very good, too. But check each airport’s official website for full, up to date information. While an increasing number of them actively discourage travel by car, instead promoting their excellent local public transport links, there’s always somewhere safe to leave your car.
Why use a local airport?
Regional airports have enjoyed a dramatic renaissance in recent years. A massive 95 million of us used one last year while growth at major hubs like Heathrow experienced lower growth, possibly because more travellers chose to fly from closer to home. It’s no surprise when it’s faster and costs less to travel shorter distances to somewhere smaller and easier to navigate, with fewer crowds.
Regional hubs are also known for friendly, personalised service. And for many travellers they’re the greenest option, often easy to access by public transport and a lot closer to home than the closest major hub.
On the downside the facilities tend to be more basic than the big boys… but on the other hand most of us don’t want to hang around the airport for any longer than necessary. We don’t want to be forced by boredom and frustration to engage in unnecessary shopping, we just want to get going!
Durham Tees Valley airport seeks local business opinions
Set in the north east’s industrial heartland, Durham Tees Valley airport offers international flights via KLM, bmibaby and RyanAir. Its top destinations include Amsterdam, Cork, Dublin, Jersey, Paris, Venice and Verona, Turkey, Tenerife and Tunisia.
Having struggled to beat the recession, the airport is taking firm steps towards a brighter future. Rather than guess what travellers want Durham Tees Valley Airport has taken the marketing high ground, asking local companies for their views about how they can improve. A major Business Travel Survey is collecting local business’ opinions on a wide range of factors aimed at understanding how the airport can better meet business needs. Watch this space to see what improvements the airport decides to mke.
Cardiff Airport introduces 11 new routes
It’s great news for local travellers. FlyBe are due to open up shop at Cardiff airport, the latest in a run of positive moves since the Welsh Government bought the airport for £52m. It represents a significant vote of confidence in the hub, which was on its last legs not so long ago. FlyBe’s chief executive Saad Hammad said he wanted to see at least 400,000 passengers flying out of Cardiff every year to enjoy the airline’s 11 new routes, which include flights to Munich, Paris and Milan.
Bristol Airport gets going on £150 million expansion
Five years after Bristol airport was given the go ahead to expand, work has finally begun on increasing the size of the terminal. The news follows a long planning permission battle and means the hub could eventually service an impressive ten million passengers a year, four million more than the current number. The delays were down to the worldwide economic slump and associated drops in passenger levels.
The existing building is just fifteen years old but it’s already maxed out, with no wriggle room for expansion. The improved building will provide much-needed extra space plus more shops and eateries. The work should be complete by summer 2015, in time for the holiday season. The airport is offering a dazzling summer 2015 schedule to match, with flights from Balkan Holidays, First Choice, Just Sunshine, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Red Sea Holidays and more.
Ashford Lydd Airport’s strong, loyal local business travel market
Tiny Kent-based Ashford Lydd is a well-loved business travel alternative to the congestion of London’s major hubs with fast access to the south east and the capital plus daily flights to Le Touquet in France. The M20 is on the doorstep and the high speed rail link from Ashford International zooms you to London, St. Pancras in 37 minutes.
Lydd Airport bosses want a new terminal building and an extended runway to take up to half a million passengers a year. Opponents said safety fears about the nearby Dungeness nuclear plant had not been addressed. Shepway District Council gave permission for the expansion plans in 2010 but the government called for a public inquiry.
The £25m project, also known as London Ashford Airport, includes a runway extension of almost 300m (328yds). Hani Mutlaq, the airport’s executive manager, said the government’s decision was “a victory for common sense and for the people of Romney Marsh”. The approval is subject to environmental, noise and traffic conditions.”Once all these have been addressed, we hope to begin the runway construction work as soon as possible,” Mr Mutlaq said.
Cambridge City Airport, internal and international routes
Cambridge City airport lies just three miles from the city centre and fourteen miles from Newmarket, the world famous horse racing venue. It provides a comfortable departure and arrival experience with short check-in times, convenient airport car parking, passenger and VIP lounges, Costa coffee, snacks plus – most important of all – really fast immigration procedures and a single-point UK Border and customs area. They provide flights to a range of exciting destinations including the Channel Islands, the Alps, Verona, the Italian Lakes and South Tyrol.
In early March they announced another new route: SUN-AIR flights to Sweden’s second biggest city, Gothenburg.
What about the future?
It looks like local airports have a bright future. The UK government is keen to expand local hubs, partly because adding extra runways to the big nationals like Gatwick and Heathrow is proving so tricky, with plans put back years, even decades, and local people and conservationists up in arms. During the past five years more than twenty local airports have submitted expansion plans, illustrating their popularity and potential.
Expanding local air flight opportunities mean more local jobs as well as more choice for travellers. And as regional airports become more popular, big businesses are stepping in to take advantage of the trend. Several regionals are currently involved in big-money deals, attracting investment capital to fund improved facilities.
If you’re a frequent traveller or live a long way from a major hub and want convenience plus great value for money, going regional might be the best choice. And the more of us use them, the more likely ticket prices are to drop, according to the basic economic theory of supply and demand.
Are you flying regional this year?
Are you planning to ditch the big hubs and fly from a local hub this year? Maybe you do it regularly. What are your experiences? We’d love to hear them, so feel free to comment.