BRITAIN'S biggest airline, easyJet, is to start operating flights from Doncaster's Robin Hood airport from the spring.
The airport faced uncertainty in October after its owner Peel Holdings confirmed it was looking for investors to buy a stake in its airports division.
Forecasts had also looked gloomy for the winter, particularly after easyJet's rival Ryanair pulled its popular Dublin flight out of the site, claiming it was too expensive to run.
But yesterday bosses said the arrival of 21 new flights beginning on April 19 was "magnificent news" and forecast "double-digit" growth in business over the next 12 months.
Senior representatives from Peel Holdings, airport management and officials from tourist board Welcome to Yorkshire gathered yesterday to welcome an easyJet plane to the site.
Destinations served by the airline will be Amsterdam, Barcelona, Faro, Palma and Prague, which bosses said offered "a mix of city break and sunshine destinations".
Paul Simmons, easyJet's UK regional general manager said: "By operating services from the airport, easyJet can now tap in to the attractive Yorkshire catchment area.
"That includes major conurbations such as Sheffield, Doncaster, Barnsley, Rotherham, Hull, Worksop and Wakefield. With over 40 flights in and out per week our choice of destinations is expected to attract both the business and leisure travellers.
"In addition, we are looking to develop the inbound market, highlighting Yorkshire as a destination to Europeans, helping to bring even greater investment to the local economy.
"EasyJet is committed to expansion across the UK regions; we are now not only the largest UK airline, but also the largest airline in the North of England, providing greater access to our famously low fares and convenient services from your local airport."
The airline said it expected to carry around 300,000 passengers on its five routes in the first year of operation; fares would start from 24.99 including taxes and charges.
Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity said: "This is great news for Yorkshire and great news for the airport. EasyJet is a leading European airline and today's announcement means more tourists can now fly direct to Yorkshire on one of its planes over a thousand times a year.
"We will be working hard to promote Yorkshire in those countries and to encourage more international visitors to come and stay in our wonderful county."
Airport managers said they had managed to attract easyJet to Robin Hood Airport by working closely with Welcome to Yorkshire and said the easyJet announcement "further establishes the airport's importance" in the region.
Peel Airports deputy chief executive Neil Pakey said: "There is a clear message in this that people want to fly from their local airport and not have to trek to Heathrow or across the Pennines in needless car or train journeys.
"Regional airports are vital to the economic prosperity of city regions and we welcome easyJet's massive multi-million pound investment into Doncaster, the Sheffield City Region and the wider Yorkshire, North Notts, North Lincolnshire and North Derbyshire regions."
Robin Hood Airport director Mike Morton added: "Having established the airport as the starting point for many holiday flights, we now look forward to welcoming a world-leading low cost airline. There is a genuine sense of excitement and anticipation about the place."