Whilst several UK airports defied the odds (and volcanic activity) to post growth in 2010, a far greater number succumbed to snowfall and the recession, and ended the year in a disappointing slump. However, few airports can claim to have suffered as much as Durham Tees Valley. The Darlington hub has lost almost 700,000 passengers since 2006, including 63,000 in 2010 alone.
In terms of passenger numbers, Durham Tees Valley is now languishing in the doldrums, surrounded by ‘island and highland’ airports, such as St. Mary’s on the Isle of Scilly, Scatsta in the Shetlands, and Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands. The hub’s closest rival on the UK mainland is Blackpool Airport, which endured a 15% plunge in passenger numbers in 2010, compared to 22% at Durham.
Durham is dangerously close to undoing everything that bosses have worked for over the past 35 years. The loss of a further 13,000 customers in 2011 would return passenger numbers to levels unseen since 1975, when the airport was known by its original moniker, Teesside International Airport. Back then, traffic figures were buoyed by a BMI route to Heathrow. The route was pulled in 2009, however, forty years after it originally began.
The recent collapse of Flyglobespan and tour operator, Goldtrail, caused significant problems for Durham, but the departure of bmibaby in 2006, Wizz Air in 2008, and Ryanair in 2011, sent the airport’s debts into a spiral. The poorly received Passenger Facility Fee, essentially, a £6 levy for ‘permission’ to pass through airport security, was the inevitable consequence of Durham’s terminal lack of popularity, and a desperate bid to raise an extra £500,000 for new developments.
Despite the grim outlook, officials at Durham Airport remain cautiously optimistic about the hub’s future. Expansions from Thomson Airways and Atlantic Holidays will add extra routes to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, and the Portuguese archipelago, Madeira. The uptake of tickets on routes hosted by Turkish holiday firm, Holidays 4U, are also said to have "improved" in recent months.
Local Tory MP, James Wharton, noted that "good transport links," including Durham Airport, are "vital," if the northeast economy is to recover from the recession.