Plymouth City Airport

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This article is about the airport in Plymouth, Devon, England. For other uses, see Plymouth Municipal Airport.
For the airport in the vicinity of Plymouth, Montserrat, see John A. Osborne Airport.
Plymouth City Airport
PLHlogo.png
Summary
Airport type Public
Owner Plymouth City Council
Operator Plymouth City Airport Ltd / Sutton Harbour Holdings
Serves Plymouth
Location Plymouth, Devon
Built 1925 (1925)
In use 1925-2011 (2011)
Elevation AMSL 476 ft / 145 m
Coordinates 50°25′22″N 004°06′21″W / 50.42278°N 4.10583°W / 50.42278; -4.10583 (Plymouth City Airport)Coordinates: 50°25′22″N 004°06′21″W / 50.42278°N 4.10583°W / 50.42278; -4.10583 (Plymouth City Airport)
Map
EGHD is located in Devon
EGHD
EGHD
Location in Devon
Runways
Direction Length Surface
m ft
13/31 1,160 3,806 Asphalt
Statistics (2009)
Movements 19,763
Passengers 157,933
Sources: UK AIP at NATS[1]
Statistics from the UK Civil Aviation Authority[2]

Plymouth City Airport (IATA: PLHICAO: EGHD) is a 'mothballed' airport located within the City of Plymouth 3.5 NM (6.5 km; 4.0 mi) north northeast of the city centre in Devon, England at Roborough. The airport opened on this site in 1925 and was officially opened by the future Edward VIII, as Prince of Wales, in 1931. The airport is located close to the city centre and has a modern terminal.

The airport is owned by Plymouth City Council and leased to Plymouth-based company Sutton Harbour Holdings.

In 2009, 157,933 passengers passed through the airport, a sharp increase of 34.0% on the 2008 total of 117,823 making Plymouth one of the few UK airports experiencing significant growth during the period.[2] However, following the withdrawal of London flights in early 2011, the airport's owners said passenger totals had fallen to fewer than 100 a day. The London Stock Exchange was notified on 28 April 2011 that the airport would close by the end of the year.[3]

Plymouth City Airport had a CAA Public Use Aerodrome Licence (Number P687) that allowed flights for the public transport of passengers or for flying instruction.

The airport closed and ceased all operations on 23 December 2011. As result of the announced closure a public campaign group was formed to protect the airport site. The group known as Viable delivered a petition to the City Council with 37000 signatures objecting to the Airport closure and asking the Council to protect the site.[4]

In May 2015 FlyPlymouth announced it was ending its campaign and launching a social enterprise to acquire the Airport site and reopen the Airport.[5]

In December 2016 a long-awaited Department for Transport study concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that sufficient demand exists to operate commercially viable passenger services and that the relatively short runway limits the range of aircraft and airlines able to operate from the airport.

In February 2017 Sutton Harbour Holdings plc, which is the joint landowner and leaseholder of the airport site, published proposals to create a mixed-use garden suburb on the site called Plym Vale. It said this would be a £200 million investment that would create a £50m windfall for Plymouth City Council, 440 permanent jobs, 1,500 new homes and a range of community facilities.

The future use of the airport site will be determined by an Examination in Public of the draft Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan, which is scheduled to take place in the autumn of 2017. In the draft plan, Plymouth City Council currently earmarks the airport site for future General Aviation use. Sutton Harbour Holdings plc is seeking to have the site included in the plan for redevelopment as a garden suburb.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

In 1923, a mail flight, flown by Alan Cobham, to Croydon carried passengers from a grass strip at Chelson Meadow, Plymouth. Following the flight, Plymouth City Council looked for a permanent site for an airport. In 1925, the airport was moved to Roborough in north Plymouth. The Prince of Wales later Edward VIII officially opened the airport in July 1931. As well as transporting mail and passengers, the airport was used as a bad weather training base for the Royal Air Force as RAF Roborough as well as other services of the armed forces.[6]

Developments[edit]

In September 2007 the airport management announced that the second runway might be sold for industrial and residential development. However, this runway cannot be used by commercial airlines. This prompted a response from the city assets manager which indicated a review of the demand for and extent of local interest in a Plymouth City Airport. The end of flights to France together with the added security delays associated with internal air travel when compared with moderately fast road and rail links make Plymouth Airport less attractive than before. Efforts to reinvigorate the support of the local business community met with polite well disposed indifference. Diversion to Newquay is not convenient. The travel on time from London Gatwick to London Victoria adds considerably to total travel time.

However, despite many local residents sharing the view that these developments represented the 'beginning of the end' for the airport, in October 2007 Air Southwest announced new routes to Dublin, Cork, Chambéry, Glasgow International Airport and Newcastle Airport. Sutton Harbour Holdings who owned the airport (and Air Southwest) also investigated the possibility of extending the main runway (13/31) to enable larger aircraft to use the airport and thereby further expand the services provided. Extension of the runway was previously not possible due to a factory (since demolished) located close to the threshold of Runway 31.

Further support for the continued use of the airport came in February 2008 when Air Southwest and the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce & Industry announced the results of an air travel survey aimed at over 200 businesses in Plymouth.[7] The results found that:

  • 82% of respondents believe that the air links are important for the economic prosperity of the city
  • Only 1/3 of local companies believe Plymouth has good road and rail links to the destinations used for business
  • More than half of the businesses questioned use Air Southwest's London Gatwick service on a regular basis

A multimillion-pound airport redevelopment was given the go ahead. The redevelopment will be paid for by selling off the shorter of the two runways to build 375 houses, offices and a 60-bed care home.

Closure[edit]

On 24 August 2009, Runway 06/24 was closed. On 1 February 2011, the Air Southwest service to London Gatwick ceased. The council had searched for a new operator, but no successor airline came forward to take over. Consequently, on 28 April 2011, Sutton Harbour Holdings announced that the airport would close by the end of the year.[8]

On 28 July 2011, the last commercial passenger flights operated from the airport. After this point, and until the end of Air Southwest operations in September 2011, passengers were transported by coach to Newquay.

The airport was officially closed by the Sutton Harbour Group on 23 December 2011. The last aircraft to fly in and out of the airport was a Mooney M20E flown by the so-called "Flying Preacher" John Holme. He arrived in extreme conditions with 60 mph winds at one point during the approach, but, as forecast, the wind veered in time to make the landing possible.[citation needed]

In October 2011, a group of local businesses formed a group called VIABLE, that aims to re-open the site.

Sutton Harbour Holdings released a study in February 2014 that it said proved the airport remained economically unviable.[9]

In March 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, stated that he would look at commissioning an independent study into the viability of reopening the airport. Following the Chancellor's announcement, London's Heathrow Airport also announced that they had set aside £10 million within a regional route development plan that would only go ahead on the condition that Plymouth City Airport reopens.

Department for Transport study, December 2016[edit]

About the study[edit]

In December 2016 the Department for Transport published its report entitled: A study of consultancy reports' conclusions on reopening Plymouth City Airport for commercial passenger services.

The study brings together and reviews in detail the findings from nine previous reports commissioned by interested parties on the potential viability of renewed commercial passenger services from the former Plymouth City Airport (PCA).[10]

The study concludes that there is no clear and consistent evidence across the reports reviewed to suggest that sufficient demand exists to operate commercially viable passenger services from a reopened PCA. It says passenger estimates were found to be equivalent to or lower than the levels seen prior to PCA's closure, when the airport frequently failed to make a profit. The study says that PCA is subject to a range of supply constraints, namely a relatively short runway that limits the range of aircraft and airlines able to operate from the airport. This is turn limits the number of possible destinations served, restricting demand. The study says that the reviewed reports show a number of commercial risks which would limit the viability of the airport. Therefore, when reviewing any business case which considers resuming commercial passenger services at PCA, the extent to which the proposal provides sufficient evidence that the effects of these risks can be mitigated should be considered.[11]

Reaction to Department for Transport study[edit]

Before the Department for Transport study was published, BBC Spotlight (South West) ran a report on 28 October 2016 saying that the study was expected to conclude that Plymouth City Airport could not operate without substantial public subsidy. A tweet from BBC Radio Cornwall stated: 'New report warns any plans to reopen Plymouth City Airport would require £9m of Govt funding - would you use it?'[1]

A second tweet on the same day from BBC Radio Cornwall stated: 'Campaigners fighting to reopen Plymouth City Airport have admitted £9m of Govt investment would be needed'.[2]

On Sunday 30 October 2016 the BBC's Sunday Politics South West carried a more in-depth story about the findings of the Department for Transport study saying it appeared to suggest Plymouth City Airport is not viable without £9m of public subsidy.[3]

The source of the £9m subsidy claim appears to be paragraph 5.20 (pages 71–72) of the DfT report which references a business plan submitted by the campaign group FlyPlymouth to reopen the airport. The report states: FlyPlymouth do not suggest that a reopened PCA under Option 3 will be financially viable in the short term without government subsidy or support, as their business case includes £4 million in government loans (or an alternative) to help cover site 72 acquisition costs, recommissioning costs and initial operational losses. Further to this, the business case assumes that support from the Regional Air Connectivity Fund (RACF), totalling £5 million across the first three loss-making years of commercial passenger operations, will be provided by the Government.

The DfT study was dismissed as a "red herring" by FlyPlymouth[12] when it was published on 16 December 2016. Tim Jones, Chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said: "...it's the wrong type of airport in the wrong location. We have to move on. We can't clutch as straws any more." Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, whose Moor View constituency includes the airport site, said: "The report itself does not appear to paint a positive light for passenger services from Plymouth airport. I recognise this is an emotive subject, but I simply want to see the land used productively to benefit Plymouth. What I believe would be an absolute travesty is the site be aid empty for over 20 years."

Sutton Harbour Holdings published a press release in response to the publication of the DfT report in which Chief Executive Jason Schofield said: "This is a thorough and independent report that has weighed the evidence and concluded that there is no evidence that commercially viable passenger services can be sustained from this site."

Plym Vale garden suburb[edit]

In February 2017 Sutton Harbour Holdings published plans to redevelop the airport site as a garden suburb called Plym Vale. The company said the £200 million plan would create a new walkable city quarter with village green, playing fields, shops, homes and social enterprise workspace. There would be a veterans' rehabilitation village, multi-sports arena linked to the University of St Mark & St John (Marjon), primary school, community hall and health facilities. The site would include in the region of 1,500 new homes, from starter-homes and social housing, to detached family houses, to supported homes and health facilities for older members of the community. Sutton Harbour Holdings says this would meet up to 10% of Plymouth’s local housing need, taking pressure off greenfield sites on the edge of the city and in surrounding towns and villages in West Devon and the South Hams.

Lord Matthew Taylor has been appointed as an independent advisor to the project. Lord Taylor originated the government’s new Garden Villages policy and conducted planning policy reviews for the previous two Governments. He is also former chairman of the National Housing Federation, representing 1,100 charitable housing associations across England.

Commenting on the plans, Marjon Acting Vice-Chancellor Dr Karen Cook said: “If there is not to be an airport on the current site, we are fully supportive of the plans for Plym Vale that Sutton Harbour Holdings plc is proposing. The plans bring added value to the city, over and above a standard housing scheme, and would enhance the living and social options for our future students.”

Sutton Harbour Holdings plc said its proposals for Plym Vale will be submitted to Plymouth City Council as part of the council’s ongoing consultation into the Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan, which is due to be considered by a Planning Inspector in the autumn of 2017.

The Council is entitled to 75% of the development proceeds from the airport site because it owns the majority of the freehold. Sutton Harbour Holdings has estimated that this would be worth at least £50 million to the Council.

Facilities[edit]

Air Southwest had its management head office at the airport, but announced that 12 jobs would be lost and its Plymouth office would close, moving instead to Humberside Airport, which is the main operations base for Eastern Airways. Its main maintenance base was moved to Newquay early in 2011.[13] When Brymon Airways existed, its head office was in Brymon House within the airport perimeter.[14]

An RAF Chinook was forced to make an emergency landing at Plymouth Airport on 25 November 2011. It was the fifth such landing in ten days.[15] Flag Officer Sea Training(FOST) helicopters will now operate from HMS Raleigh in Cornwall but be based at Newquay.[16]

The airport in its entirety was closed on 23 December 2011 due to the present owners, Sutton Harbour Holdings making a case that the airport was non-viable. As from this date, there was no ATC, navigation aids, runway or fire cover.

Concern has been expressed about operation of the Devon Air Ambulance with the closure of the airport - for example no night flights are allowed at nearby Derriford Hospital.[17] Airport leaseholder Sutton Harbour Holdings is to go ahead with an auction of the aerodrome's equipment in July 2012.[18] In June 2012, any decision on the future of the airport was postponed until 2013 by Plymouth City Council.[19]

Jodel controversy[edit]

On 9 August 2015, a Jodel light aircraft, registration G-ASXU, was forced to land at Plymouth Airport due to poor weather.[20] The lease-holders, Sutton Harbour Holdings plc, refused to let the aircraft take off from the airport's runway, citing safety concerns,[21] and concrete blocks were placed around the aircraft to prevent it from being moved. The actions of SHH were widely condemned by members of the UK general aviation community, with a "Free the Jodel" campaign being started online.[22] SHH's social media pages were flooded with messages of criticism.

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth was among those to criticise the actions of SHH PLC. He stated: "If the aircraft is serviceable, and the insurance company says they will cover the risk, the obvious thing is to let him take off. There is a risk other pilots confronted with the same decision to make, whether to put down or plough on in bad weather, could carry on and kill themselves".[21] When it was operational, Plymouth City Airport signed up to the Strasser Scheme, which exempts pilots from charges for emergency landings or diversions.[23] Charles Strasser, who initiated the scheme, called the decision "outrageous", and said, "This flies in the face of the spirit of the agreement".[20]

On the morning of August 28, three weeks after landing, pilot Martin Ferid flew his Jodel out of the former Plymouth Airport site in front of a crowd of onlookers.[24] Ferid claimed before taking off that "a military air base would have treated me better".[25]

SHH PLC said at the time: “We made clear at the time that this was always an issue of safety and therefore the pilot being able to demonstrate that there was acceptable insurance in place."[4]

Airlines and destinations[edit]

No airlines currently operate from Plymouth. Air Southwest pulled out of Plymouth in July 2011 in advance of the airline's closure in September 2011.

Passenger statistics[edit]

5 busiest routes to and from Plymouth City Airport (2009)
Rank Airport Passengers handled  % Change
2008 / 09
1 London Gatwick 57,516 Decrease5
2 Glasgow International 24,370 Increase42
3 Manchester 24,307 Decrease26
4 Newcastle 16,772 Increase25
5 Jersey 13,434 Decrease10
Source: UK Civil Aviation Authority [5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "NATS - AIS - Home". ead-it.com. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b UK Airport Statistics: 2009 - annual
  3. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-13219590 Plymouth City Airport closed on 23 December 2011
  4. ^ "Plymouth Airport supporters hand petition in to city council". BBC News. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  5. ^ http://m.plymouthherald.co.uk/FlyPlymouth-vows-reopen-Plymouth-City-Airport/story-26466154-detail/story.html
  6. ^ "About Plymouth City Airport". Plymouth City Airport. Retrieved 23 December 2009. 
  7. ^ http://www.sutton-harbour.co.uk/news.asp?NewsID=69 News: Strong support for Plymouth air links
  8. ^ "Plymouth City Airport to close in December". BBC News. 28 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "No prospect of Plymouth City Airport ever reopening, according to SHH reports". Plymouth Herald. 26 February 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  10. ^ "A study of consultancy reports' conclusions on reopening Plymouth City Airport for commercial passenger services" (PDF). Department for Transport. 16 December 2016.  UKOpenGovernmentLicence.svg This content is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0. © Crown copyright.
  11. ^ "A study of consultancy reports' conclusions on reopening Plymouth City Airport for commercial passenger services" (PDF). Department for Transport. 16 December 2016. p. Page 7, paragraphs 12–14.  UKOpenGovernmentLicence.svg This content is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0. © Crown copyright.
  12. ^ Telford, William (16 December 2016). "Low deamand and short runway mean Plymouth airport unlikely to reopen". Plymouth Herald. 
  13. ^ "Plymouth City Airport Master Plan." Plymouth City Airport. October 2008. 24 (24/46). Retrieved on 7 February 2011. "Plymouth City Airport benefits from having a home-based carrier, Air Southwest, locating its management headquarters and main engineering base at the Airport."
  14. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. 24–30 March 1999. 61. "Brymon House, Plymouth City Airport, Crownhill, Plymouth, Devon, PL6 8BW, UK."
  15. ^ "Chinook helicopter makes emergency landing at Plymouth airport". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  16. ^ "Base in the Duchy for helicopters at airport". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  17. ^ "Closure may end air ambulance night flights". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  18. ^ "Airport owners say auction will go ahead". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  19. ^ "Decision on future of Plymouth City Airport is postponed". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  20. ^ a b "Anger at 'impounded' Plymouth emergency landing plane". BBC News. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  21. ^ a b "SHH impounds vintage aircraft that made emergency landing at disused airport - Daily Mail Online". Mail Online. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  22. ^ "Free the Jodel campaign gathers pace". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Mick Elborn. "Strasser Scheme". aopa.co.uk. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  24. ^ "Crowds gather to watch Jodel plane take off from the former Plymouth airport". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  25. ^ "Jodel pilot at Plymouth airport: 'A military air base would have treated me better'". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 

External links[edit]