Airport's year to consolidate as Peel posts loss

ROBIN Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield is set for a period of consolidation, after its owners posted a full-year loss, a member of its management team said yesterday.

Peel Airports, which runs Robin Hood and a number of other airports, including John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, saw its losses double to 26m in the year to March 2010.

The company also revealed that its annual turnover for the year to March fell by 15 per cent to 41m.

However, Robin Hood airport director Mike Morton said there had been a number of positive developments in recent months, including the announcement that low cost airline Ryanair will fly from Robin Hood to Faro in Portugal and Tenerife (south) from 2011.

The announcement means that Ryanair is expected to triple the number of seats on offer from Robin Hood to around 90,000 next year.

Mr Morton said that, over the last two months the airport had announced 30,000 new seats with Thomson Holidays, 40,000 extra seats with Thomas Cook and new flights with Wizz Air to Vilnius in Lithuania.

He highlighted the role being played by Yorkshire's airports in boosting the region's economy.

The directors of Leeds-Bradford, Robin Hood and Humberside airports have vowed to co-operate to help attract more businesses and tourists to the region.

Mr Morton said: "We've flown the flag through thick and thin. Regional airports can provide an alternative to the south east. This year, we will be consolidating our existing position."

He wanted to attract more passengers by stressing how quickly they could check in at Robin Hood compared to larger airports in the south east.

He said there was the possibility that a new airline could be flying from Robin Hood, although no announcement was expected until "the back end of the year or the summer of 2012".

Mr Morton said there was still interest in routes to Eastern Europe.

He added: "We're second only to Luton in terms of destinations to Poland. Even with the downturn in the economy, the demand is still there."

However, Robin Hood suffered a setback when budget airline easyJet announced in September that it had decided to end its operations at the airport, just six months after they were launched.

Easyjet had offered flights from Robin Hood to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Faro, Palma and Prague. At the time, Robin Hood Airport's director of aviation sales Nick Smillie said that easyJet's flights to Amsterdam had been just 72 per cent full. He blamed the low passenger numbers on the scheduling of the flight, which left at 2pm, making it less attractive to business travellers.

Mr Morton said that the airport had expected to welcome around 1.2 million passengers between April 2010 and March 2011. This figure is now expected to be just under one million.

During 2010, the airport handled just under 900,000 passengers, a five per cent increase on 2009.

In June last year, it was announced that global airport manager Vancouver Airport Services had bought a 65 per cent stake in Peel Airports.

Vancouver, which runs 19 airports around the world, is keen to grow both passenger and flight numbers.

A key goal for Vancouver will be to start making a profit from the airports, which are currently loss-making.

Last year Peel Airports' chief executive Craig Richmond said he wanted to make the airports profitable as soon as possible, but he wouldn't be drawn on a timescale.

Yesterday, Mr Morton said he hoped the airport could break even within two to three years. Mr Morton highlighted the fact that Robin Hood's long runway made it attractive for cargo flights.

He said: "We had eight freighters in and out of the airport in the last month. We are always trying to look for scheduled cargo traffic. It adds to the diversity of the airport.

"They (Vancouver Airport Services) see Robin Hood as the future. What they see, by 2016, is between three and four millions passengers going through the terminal."

Mr Morton said the airport had reduced its cost base during 2008, and increased its revenue streams to ensure it was in a "fairly robust position" at the start of the financial crisis.