The aviation minister has ruled out Government support for flights from Newcastle to the USA, as the city’s airport kick-started its ambitious plans to create thousands of jobs.
Transport minister Robert Goodwill said he would not be using taxpayer cash to back direct flights from Tyneside during a visit to help launch Newcastle Airport’s new business park.
Airport chiefs say a £30m plan for six office buildings next to the Callerton Parkway Metro station will create around 1,000 jobs, part of a wider plan to expand the airport site along with property firm UK Land Estates.
Meeting with senior airport staff yesterday, Mr Goodwill said the Government was committed to backing “local international airports”.
However, asked if he would go as far as to offer support for the new flights – connections which would bring a much needed boost to the regional economy – the Scarborough and Whitby MP said he would leave it to the airport to sell itself abroad rather than offering Government financial support.
Flights to the US have been a target of not just the airport, with its seven council owners, but also the job-creating local enterprise partnership and the Chamber of Commerce, who have all backed the need for expansion westwards. But yesterday Mr Goodwill put on hold any hope of Government subsidy.
He said: “If you look at flights to Dubai you can see what can be done without Government funding.
“That successful route has been made without the need to use taxpayers’ money to subsidise it.” Mr Goodwill added: “I know that there has been some lobbying about, say, relaxing the air passenger duty here. The worry is that that could create a churn where the flights are only here until that subsidy goes.
“We have not been persuaded by the arguments so far. The Dubai flights are very well subscribed flights, the case can be made (to the operators) I think for flights into New Jersey or wherever in America.”
Newcastle International Airport chief executive David Laws said he believed the airport’s expansion and new office space would make it an even more attractive investment to American airlines.
“The new business park will help attract the type of airline that the whole region is desperate for,” he said. Mr Laws told the minister that connections through Newcastle Airport played a key role in encouraging firms to relocate to the region.
He added: “The location is great not only for aviation related companies, but also professional services, technology and IT, telecommunications and oil and gas / offshore businesses, who can make use of the excellent connectivity on offer.
“This is a very important development for us and one which we feel will be very popular.
“Other successful regional airports have been able to diversify their business and we see this scheme as critical in supporting the growth of the airport.
The overall project will comprise four phases, which collectively have the potential to deliver over 7,000 jobs and a regional economic boost of over £300m.
The development is being overseen by a steering group comprising Newcastle International Airport, UK Land Estates, Newcastle City Council, the Homes and Communities Agency and the North Eastern Local Enterprise Partnership.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, said “Newcastle Airport provides an important gateway to new business opportunities across the globe.
“The creation of this new International Business Park at Newcastle Airport is a clear indication of our growing economic confidence and we look forward to welcoming new investors to our city and region, knowing they’ll benefit from a fantastic location and excellent connections.”