Newcastle Airport looks set to miss out on key funds announced in last week’s Budget that would have helped it attract flights to America to the region, it has emerged.
George Osborne raised hopes that the airport could get closer to meeting its long-held ambition of securing regular trans-Atlantic flights after he announced a £20m Regional Air Connectivity Fund for airports outside the planned high speed rail network.
But a Treasury spokesman has since said that only airports with less than three million annual passengers – way below Newcastle’s current level of around 4.7m – would be eligible for the assistance under the fund.
Newcastle MP Catherine McKinnell has now tabled questions in Parliament to Mr Osborne clarify which airports will be eligible for the scheme.
The Shadow Treasury Minister said: “I am concerned that there remains a significant amount of confusion about what the expansion of the Regional Air Connectivity Fund will actually mean for Newcastle.
“It’s not clear how much funding is actually available, over what time period, what it can be used for and – most importantly – which regional airports will even be eligible to benefit.
“A Treasury spokesperson has already been cited as suggesting it will only be available to those airports with fewer than three million passengers per year, and Newcastle has higher numbers than that.”
She added: “Businesses in the region have been calling for some time for a new trans-Atlantic route from Newcastle because it would open up access to significant new markets for our region’s firms, to boost the North East’s already impressive exporting record.
“We have seen an incredible increase in the value of goods exported through Newcastle Airport since the launch of the Emirates route in 2007 – more than £250m of UK exports were shipped through Newcastle in the last year. A new trans-Atlantic route could have an equally transformative effect for the North East.”
The Budget contained good news for regional airports like Newcastle with changes to the unpopular Air Passenger Duty (APD).
During a meeting about the budget on Friday, Graeme Mason, planning and corporate affairs director at Newcastle Airport, asked Mrs McKinnell and Hexham MP Guy Opperman for their support in lobbying the Government over the fund.
He said: “We welcome the Budget announcement in relation to APD. We believe that Newcastle and the North East will benefit from the change in the banding.
“We note the announcement in relation to the Regional Air Connectivity Fund and we would welcome any support that our local MPs can give in the delivery of our route development programme.
“Before we comment further, we want to see the detail of this aspect of the Budget announcement, which we understand will be issued later in the year.”