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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
New subsidies may help airports
Terminal at Norwich Airport
Airports with fewer than 5m passengers a year stand to benefit
Regional airports have been given a boost by new European Union rules that allow public subsidies to be used for new airline routes.

The rules were looked at after Ryanair was ordered to repay illegal state aid for flying to Belgium's Charleroi airport in February 2004.

Now new routes from airports with fewer than 5m passengers a year could receive subsidies of up to 50% of the costs.

The decision has been welcomed by East of England Euro-MP Richard Howitt.

He said subsidies could help establish new internal flights from Norwich to Exeter, Bristol and Birmingham.

If these new rules clear the way forward for these routes that is positive
Tim Connor, Norwich Airport

"Following last year's court decision, which outlawed subsidy to a Belgian regional airport, these new guidelines provide a huge boost to airports, including Southend and Norwich, to be able to compete with the major hubs," said Mr Howitt.

"It frees up opportunities for the regional development agency, government and Europe itself to invest in new developments at Southend and Norwich."

Commercial director of Norwich Airport, Tim Connor, explained he cautiously welcomes the news.

"For a long time we have talked to local development agencies about support for starting up new routes - which is quite an expensive process," he said.

Southend Airport
Southend Airport is hoping to expand

"But the agency's view was this support was not allowed under EU rules. If these new rules clear the way forward for these routes that is positive."

"We would also look at establishing connections to other EU airports."

Business development manager with Southend Airport, Karen Medwith, said airport managers were still looking at the detailed implications of the new rules, but thought it was a positive move.

"With our expansion we are talking to many airlines at present," she said.

Samantha Day, a spokeswoman for Luton-based airline Easyjet, said: "We think that it is important there is clarity on subsidies and we are looking over the details at the moment."

Mark Clarkson, of the Durham Tees Valley Airport, said: "It is positive. It was expected. We have been working very closely with One North East development agency over this. At the end of the day this could assist in new routes."


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