Page last updated at 02:13 GMT, Saturday, 11 April 2009 03:13 UK

Downturn 'hits regional airports'

An airliner
Airports blame a shortfall in income for introducing charges

Some regional airports could struggle to survive the recession because of falling passenger numbers, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) has warned.

Its figures suggest overall traffic in March 2009 was down 15%, with passenger numbers reduced by 70% at Blackpool Airport and 50% at Durham Tees Valley.

The AOA blamed budget carriers for squeezing costs, but airlines say extra charges have forced travellers away.

The government said it was committed to helping business during the downturn.

'Decreased the burden'

Airports have insisted that a shortfall in income has forced them to introduce extra charges for services such as fast-track security or car drop-offs for passengers.

Luton, Leeds Bradford and Liverpool all charge a £3 fee to fast-track passengers through security, while Bristol airport charges £5. Blackpool and Norwich charge a mandatory airport development fee per passenger.

Smaller airports had seen fewer passengers than expected through the winter, said Neil Pakey of the AOA.

Neil Pakey from the AOA says regional airports are up against a competitive European market

"There's no doubt about it, most budgets haven't been met.

"What it has done is its made airports more inventive than they have been before bringing in new types of projects, the fast lane initiative through security or priority lane is just one of those, these are designed not to be mandatory in most cases but to give the passengers additional choice," Mr Pakey said.

The Air Transport Users Council believes passengers will be targeted with more charges, but a spokesman said the organisation would take it up with the airports concerned.

Budget airlines have complained that the charges are driving more passengers away and they may stop operating out of airports that charge excessively.

Easyjet spokesman Andrew McConnell said the additional fees were "unfair".

"Warsaw is an example. They've put the charges up - we've withdrawn our services from the summer.

"This really is a warning to UK airports that these charges are unfair."

Burden of security

The AOA said the government needed to step in to help small airports.

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport denied that an increased security burden was responsible.

"Regional airports are important because of the travel opportunities they offer local people, their contribution to the economy and as local employers," the spokesperson said.

"There has been no major tightening of security measures at UK airports since the alert of August 2006. In fact, since 2006 we have made several changes which have decreased the burden of security measures on airport operators."

The Treasury said it was right that the industry "pays its fair share through taxation".

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