Leeds Bradford Airport bosses call for extra support for northern airports in Budget

Bosses at Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) have joined with other northern airport leaders to call on the Government to back their struggling sector in its Budget next week.

Leaders of gateways in all parts of the North have written to Boris Johnson urging him to recognise the importance of aviation and travel to his levelling-up and global Britain ambitions, by providing direct financial support to protect the industry until it is able to fully re-open.

Apart from LBA, the letter has also been signed by bosses at Manchester Airport, Carlisle Lake District Airport, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Doncaster Sheffield Airport and Newcastle International Airport.

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Collectively, the airports handled nearly 50m passengers in 2019, supported more than 200,000 jobs and generated around £14bn for the northern economy.

Leeds Bradford Airport.

With passenger levels having plummeted to just five per cent of usual volumes and with tens of thousands of travel sector jobs already lost across the North, they say the Government needs to set out how it will offer support to the sector while travel remains prohibited.

The bosses have welcomed the review of international travel measures in the Prime Minister’s recovery plan this week, but are warning it means it will be at least several months before airports start seeing any meaningful passenger demand, with international travel the only sector subject to further review as part of the plan.

Until the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce publishes its review on April 12, there remains uncertainty over whether the May 17 restart date for flying is possible.

The letter suggests that Boris Johnson could offer relief from fixed costs paid to Government, a sector-specific extension of the furlough scheme and consider reducing taxes levied on passengers to help stimulate demand.

Karen Smart, Managing Director of Manchester Airport, said: “With airports across the North still facing uncertainty and difficult decisions over the coming months, it is absolutely critical that the Chancellor recognises the unique impact the pandemic continues to have on aviation when setting out his budget next week.

“Having already lost one summer season, we are now heading towards summer ’21 facing yet another review into how our industry might restart, and the prospect of a system that could continue to restrict travel.

"The recent surge in bookings reported by airlines proves the demand is there, but the Government needs to help realise that potential without delay, by working with industry to build on the measures already developed to keep passengers safe, without further undermining consumer confidence.

“Failure to get this right risks further long-lasting damage to the communities our airports serve and the prospects of a full and balanced UK recovery.

"This means supporting Northern airports and the vital connectivity they provide. If they don’t, ministers run the risk of damaging the prospects of the Northern economy for years to come.”

Airports do not typically receive any funding from the Government, relying instead on commercial income to support their operations.

Current travel restrictions mean airports effectively have no income, and are unable to diversify in the way other businesses are.

At the same time, airports have high fixed costs, including business rates, policing and air traffic control, which means they are making tens of millions of pounds in losses each month.