Regional funding could aid cargo

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The UK government’s Department of Transport (DofT) has received 19 bids for funding to operate international and domestic routes at smaller airports, which is likely to have a positive impact on airfreight volumes.

This comes in the wake of The House of Commons’ Transport Select Committee report on 13 March called Smaller Airports, which urged for airlines to be given sufficient slots at an expanded hub airport in the south east of the UK, to maintain services at smaller airports.

Airlines bidding in the initial application stage of the start-up aid Regional Connectivity Fund are Stobart Air, Links Air, Flybe, City Wings and BMI.

Among airports set to benefit is Norwich International Airport (see picture), owned by Regional & City Airports, part of the Rigby Group. 

Norwich Airport aviation development director, Steve Lilley, says the more routes that the airport operates the better it is for cargo volume. “There will be the opportunity to carry cargo if the routes are operated. The funding provided will take out the risk for the airline running them.”

Stobart Air is seeking funding to operate flights from Carlisle Lake District Airport to Belfast, Southend and Dublin, starting from 1 April 2016, and both the carrier and airport are set to benefit if the routes are backed.

The airport and airline are owned by the Stobart Group, which is redeveloping the airport at a cost of £20 million ($29.5 million). The initial phase sees partial construction of a 394,000 square foot airfreight distribution centre and facilities will include a chiller chamber, offices and workshops. The Stobart Group is known for its freight transportation in the UK. The Group was not available for comment. No freight routes have been announced by the airline, but any commercial routes will give a boost to bellyhold freight. Redevelopment work at Carlisle Lake District Airport will be ready by the middle of this year, the airport’s manager, Andy Judge, told Air Cargo Week in December.

Bids could only be applied for routes at regional airports, which handle fewer than five million passengers a year. They were announced by the UK Government’s aviation minister, Robert Goodwill, on Friday 27 March. The DofT says smaller airports can play a vital role improving connectivity and increasing trade and helping create new jobs in their regions.

The announcement of a short-list of routes that have met the criteria of the initial application stage will be made in early May. Those routes successful will then move to the strategic and economic appraisal stage, with successful bids being announced in July 2015. 

The Regional Air Connectivity Fund totals £56 million, and is available to cover three years of financial support for start-up aid.

The importance of regional connectivity is set to be a major part of the final recommendation made by the Airports Commission on where a runway should be built in the UK’s South East. The commission will publish a report after May.

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