DURHAM Tees Valley Airport is to start charging passengers to use its terminal.
From November 15th, each adult passenger will have to pay £6 to move past the security checks and into the departure lounge, with children from 3 to 15 being charged £3.
The airport is now battling for survival, with falling passenger numbers and shareholders putting pressure on bosses to deliver profits or face closure.
With passenger numbers collapsing by more than 30%, the move is a huge gamble for Vancouver Airport Services (VAS), the parent company which only took over Peel Airports in June.
The Passenger Facility Fee will raise around £500,000 a year, but Peel are pinning a lot of their hopes on passenger loyalty, believing that people will pay around £20 per family almost as an investment to keep their local airport viable.
The model is already in place at Blackpool, Newquay and Norwich, but not at DTV’s neighbour up in Newcastle. The gamble is how easy it is for apparently loyal passengers to be wooed away by a one-hour journey with no fee at the end.
Craig Richmond, chief executive of Peel, which also owns Liverpool and Doncaster, said: “No one likes being asked to pay money, but I hope the whole community will recognise that it is something we have to do if the airport is able to move forward.”
But Darlington Borough Councillor Doris Jones, who lives in Middleton One Row, less than a mile from the airport, said: “Increasing charges is more likely to send them off to Newcastle.
She added: “All this charge will do is drive customers away, it is a short-sighted policy.”
The fee is a key part of Peel’s strategy - what Mr Richmond calls “pillars of recovery” - to first stabilise and then grow the airport and give it a long-term future.
They have a number of new leaseholders lined up for sites at the airport and are cashing in on VAS’s multi-national contacts to offer a package deal where the company controls airports at both ends of a journey. VAS, for instance owns two airports in Cyprus so could offer a DTV to Cyprus flight that would be very appealing to airline operators.
DTV director Mike Morton said he had been “fascinated” by the level of local support for the airport.
“Thankfully Vancouver came in and quickly looked at the business and cost base and started to stabilise things. They made early decisions which will start to pay off.”
Loyal supporters from outside the airport have backed the plan and underlined the importance of the airport to the Teesside economy.
Ian Williams, director of business and industry at One North East said: “The development fee is a model that has been successfully used at other airports around the country for a number of years and can help put Durham Tees Valley Airport on firm financial footing and secure its long-term future.”
Jonathan Spruce at Tees Valley Unlimited, said: “It’s been a particularly challenging time for local airports so the decision to impose passenger facility fees has been a tough one.
“However, many others in a similar position have done the same thing and we hope people will see this is the most cost effective option to get DTV Airport into a stronger position to secure new services.”