BOSSES of the region's two airports say they are seeing the green shoots of recovery despite new figures showing a fall in passenger numbers.
Latest figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show the average fall at airports was 7.4% last year but Durham Tees Valley saw passenger numbers drop by 56% while Newcastle experienced a 9% reduction.
Both airports blame the decline on the recession and Government hikes to air taxes. They are looking to recover with new services.
Durham Tees Valley aviation director Nick Smillie said: "The most important thing is what we are doing to get the airport back on a strong footing and that is about an attractive product for both business users and holiday-makers.
"The economic downturn has made us think about how we give travellers what they need and how we can get new business in. That is what we are doing and we have had some successes already."
In 2008, 656,620 passengers used Durham Tees Valley airport but that fell in 2009 to 289, 464. The airport was rocked by bmi pulling its service to London Heathrow in February.
Mr Smillie pointed to the announcements that Eastern Airways have launched a service, as have Aer Lingus, as good signs of recovery for Durham Tees Valley this year.
In 2007, Newcastle International saw passenger figures rocket as high as 5.7 million but the impact of the recession, coupled with tax hikes, saw that drop to 5,039,993 in 2008.
Graeme Mason, head of planning and corporate affairs, said: "Just like all other businesses, airports, including Newcastle International, have been affected by the recession and passenger numbers have gone down.
"What we have found, however, is that Newcastle faired better than most airports in the UK and outperformed most of its regional competitors during 2009. And, if Heathrow is excluded, we also outperformed the UK average.
"Of course it’s not just the recession that has caused this. The additional impact of Air Passenger Duty is now clear for all to see and reinforces the importance of the Journal’s campaign. We are now seeing the first signs of recovery, with new routes to Oslo with Ryanair, and Guernsey with Flybe both announced in recent weeks, and increased frequency on routes such as Brussels."
The decline at the five London airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City – was 4.9% overall.
At other regionals traffic last year fell 10.7% to a total of 88 million passengers.
CAA economic regulation director Harry Bush said: "The figures show the biggest fall in passenger numbers since the Second World War, highlighting the enormous impact the recession has had on the aviation industry."