THE ash cloud crisis will cost the region’s biggest airport around £1m, it was revealed last night.
Newcastle International’s chief executive Dave Laws told the Journal the problems caused by the Icelandic volcano eruption were the worst he has experienced in his three decades with the business.
They came on the back of the harsh winter weather conditions, which saw the airport spend tens of thousands a day just to stay open. With all services in and out of Tyneside operating again, Mr Laws praised his staff for their efforts during the difficult period.
He said: “It is fair to say that in the 32 years I have been here, I have never seen the airport brought to its knees, for want of a better phrase, in the way that it was.
“I was here for 9/11 and that was difficult but we still operated throughout the period concerned, but with this one it was a case of everything being brought to a complete standstill.
“We had to deal with the challenge, in terms of our customers and making sure they were catered for and looked after to the best of our abilities.
“Their contract is between themselves and the airlines, rather than with us, and we were delighted by some of the things they did to help their passengers, in particular Jet2.com, who hired coaches and cruise ships to bring people back.
“Other passengers have told us the service they received from Emirates was excellent, which is great to hear.
“We also heard about the price of tickets for people to get home tripling and car hire prices and so on going up and that putting a huge strain on them. I made a decision early on that anyone who had left their car here would be let out without any extra charge, so that they didn’t come home to a huge extra expense on top of what they were expecting.”
Newcastle International was affected for six-and-a-half days during the ash cloud crisis.
That saw 780 flights cancelled, causing problems for more than 75,000 people.
And there was a huge knock-on effect for the wider economy, with scores of tonnes of mail and freight also hit by the situation.
Mr Laws added: “It was just a case of everyone pulling together and entering into the spirit of things to get through it. It has been publicised that it was costing us £100,000 a day I but believe that by the time all the flights were back up and running, it cost us the thick end of £1m.
“I have to praise the commitment of our staff, who were prepared to take annual leave at short notice during the periods when we were closed or bank their hours and just generally understand what was going on and do what they could.”
The problems sparked by the Icelandic eruption came at a time when the airport was showing signs of recovering from the recession.
Latest figures reveal the airport saw its passenger numbers drop by 9% last year, which was less severe than other regionals in the UK. And the business has been boosted by a number of route announcements in recent weeks, including a new service to Oslo.
Head of planning and corporate affairs Graeme Mason said: “The ash cloud crisis came just when we were recovering from the recession but we are very confident that with our summer programme the airport will soon get back to positive growth.”