Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Airports Ride out Shocks

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Airports Ride out Shocks

Article excerpt

Byline: By Guy Anderson, By Guy Anderson

When the B-52 bombers took off with Baghdad in their sights many business travellers and tourists chose to keep their feet on the ground.

The war with Iraq heightened fears of airborne terrorism awakened by the September 11 attacks.

Today many passengers still feel vulnerable rather than cosseted in the pressurised cocoons a mile above the ground.

Shockwaves from war and global terrorism were felt by aircraft manufacturers and operators alike, with big lay-offs at Boeing, Rolls-Royce and British Airways.

The aftermath showed up on the bottom line for the flagship national operator when BA posted losses of pounds 200m last year - its worst results since privatisation 15 years ago.

Nearer home, 200 jobs were lost in the North-East as Gill Airways collapsed and Air 2000 pulled out of the region.

Newcastle Airport braced itself for 250,000 fewer passengers last summer. But the outlook for air travel in the North-East is positive once more.

A decade of consistent growth has seen Newcastle Airport passenger numbers rise from 1.9m in 1992 to 3.178m in 2000 and 3.417m in 2002 - partly due to the rise of budget airlines.

They offer a no-frills and low-cost service, with a schedule which takes in nearby European destinations rather than the long haul routes perceived as more vulnerable to terrorists.

Earlier this year, budget leader easyJet began flights from Newcastle to popular destinations such as Belfast and Barcelona and Alicante in Spain.

Demand has exceeded expectations. EasyJet marketing manager Moira Findlay said: "The fact that we have sold 100,000 seats already on our Newcastle flights makes this one of our most successful launches ever. The new routes will also help to attract tourists to the area and hugely boost local businesses."

An increase in flights landing in Newcastle - the number rose from 69,000 in 1992 to 82,500 in 2001 - cannot be underestimated.

Business travellers brought pounds 141m into the region last year, according to Northumbria Tourist Board figures, while tourists in total spend pounds 3bn annually on services and leisure.

Val Lowther, of Northumbria Tourist Board, knows the leisure trade employs 100,000 people locally, one worker in 10: "It's great for the region because people will be coming in from a lot of different places.

"This is going to make it easy for many more people to get to the North-East, and it's going to increase the numbers of short breaks people take in the region."

Regular flights to European cities also act as an artery for business in the North-East.

Dr John Bridge, chairman of regional development agency One North East, says: "If we want to develop an internationally competitive regional economy, we need world class links with the rest of the country and the world. …

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