THE coalition Government is under fire for failing to offer any prospect of compensation to Newcastle Airport after it lost £1m to the ash cloud crisis.
Airspace across Europe was shut down after an Icelandic volcano erupted and sent an ash cloud drifting across the continent in April and May, sparking unprecedented disruption. More than 75,000 of Newcastle Airport’s passengers faced disruption as 780 flights were grounded.
European aviation safety chiefs have since faced claims of over-reacting to the ash cloud.
But despite requests of help from the aviation industry, Transport Minister Theresa Villiers told MPs that compensation might not be affordable.
Her comments disappointed Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell, who urged the Government to help Newcastle Airport secure compensation from the European Union (EU) during a Parliamentary debate on the ash crisis.
Speaking later to The Journal, the Labour MP said: “She didn’t seem to have much confidence in the positive difference the Government can make with a positive engagement with the European Union.
“When you are talking about a situation we had with the ash, it has to be dealt with on a European level and we need to have someone fighting our corner with confidence and I wasn’t convinced that she will be doing that for us.”
During the debate, the Newcastle MP said passenger numbers had fallen by 10% at the airport during the recession – sparking a “significant” fall in profits and staff numbers – with the ash cloud crisis also hitting hard.
“The direct financial losses at Newcastle International airport have been established at roughly £1m. However, that sum can be multiplied significantly when the effect of the situation on other businesses at the airport – for example concessions, catering, hotels, car rentals and so on – is taken into account, and that will have a significant effect on the economy of the North East region,” she said.
She urged the Government to secure compensation for airports and airlines at a meeting of EU transport ministers on June 24.
Mrs Villiers promised MPs that she would take the difficulties experienced by airports as a result of the ash crisis on board.
But she rebuffed the request for compensation, saying: “We understand the concerns of the airlines, the airports and travel-related industries, but, in an era of constrained public finances, the issue of compensation is very difficult.”
Graeme Mason, head of planning and corporate affairs at Newcastle International said Ms McKinnell had highlighted a “critical issue”.