Airline bids to run Doncaster to London flights, via RAF base

Tower Bridge, London
Tower Bridge, London

Airline bosses want to run flights from Doncaster to London - by using a serving RAF base as an airport.

Flybe, which has already announced plans to start flights from Robin Hood Airport to destinations including Paris and Berlin from next year, now wants to add London to its list.

Flybe Embraer jet

Flybe Embraer jet

The airline is urging the government to consider opening up RAF Northolt to a number of new domestic routes, including Doncaster.

The base is inside the M25 in west London and is viewed as an option for bringing in flights without the need for more runways being built. A fast bus link would take passengers on to Heathrow.

RAF Northolt has previously been home to the Northolt Jet Centre, an extension of London City Airport, providing flights to north and west London, and the Thames Valley for small business jets and helicopters.

Flybe has called on the government to review the Ministry of Defence’s refusal to give consideration to opening up RAF Northolt to a limited number of new Flybe domestic routes, linking underserved regions to London.

( STOCK PIC ) Doncaster Minister.... The Minster Church of St George, Doncaster...  See Story ??????  Picture Chris Lawton   '01 November  2012

( STOCK PIC ) Doncaster Minister.... The Minster Church of St George, Doncaster... See Story ?????? Picture Chris Lawton '01 November 2012

Last week the government’s Spending Review did not include Flybe’s proposal to operate twice-daily return services to an initial five UK regional destinations from Northolt.

The airline says the plan would mean improved regional connectivity to London, regional access to Heathrow Airport and much-needed additional contribution to government finances.

Dan Fell, chief executive of Doncaster Chamber, said he had taken part in a National Connectivity Task Force, which looked at increasing runway capacity in the UK and how it could benefit regional economies. One of the interim options presented by the Task Force was the potential use of Northolt as a temporary measure until the UK’s runway capacity, nationally, was increased.

He said: “Two issues were of paramount importance in making that recommendation. One, regional economies are looking for connectivity with the capital and world wide destinations now, not just in ten years’ time. Any use of Northolt would need to be temporary with a view to regions, like South Yorkshire, having access to a bona fide ‘Hub Airport’ once additional capacity is created in order to create parity between South East residents and businesses and those from the regions.

“Presently Doncaster is well served by the East Coast Line and, in relative terms, has good links to the capital and global markets. However, businesses will always welcome choice and will always increased connectivity – the latter point being evidenced by how warmly the new Flybe routes from Doncaster Sheffield Airport have been welcomed by the private sector. Exploring options to improve choice and connectivity and also to fast track the vision of the Northern Powerhouse would, therefore, be welcome.”

Officals at Flybe say the failure to back Northolt flights undermines the plans for the government’s vision for the Northern Powerhouse by limiting access to London and onward global connections. Flybe says its plan would provide immediate regional connectivity, whereas HS2 is not expected to reach the north west until 2032.

Flybe says its routes out of Northolt would generate an estimated £3 million in income to the RAF and a further £4 million in Air Passenger Duty revenue to the Treasury.

Bosses also say it would benefit 300,000 passengers a year from all over the UK, giving them fast access to and from Central London and Heathrow, from regional airports not currently served by either Heathrow or Gatwick. Flybe would look to provide a fast bus link to Heathrow for connecting passengers.

Saad Hammad, Flybe’s Chief Executive, said: “Northolt has, for too long, been the preserve of the elite with their private jets. The government is in danger of turning its back on an opportunity that would benefit hundreds of thousands of people in giving immediate regional air connections to London and beyond through Heathrow’s long-haul network.

“Other ways to offer connectivity to the Northern Powerhouse are many years away. In the meantime, this proposal would raise £7m additional revenue per year for the government at a time when it is making painful fiscal decisions. The local residents of Northolt are also being denied an opportunity to reduce noise.

“Opening up Northolt would provide many of the domestic benefits of additional runway capacity now without any additional noise impact.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “Wider Government decisions on south east aviation and runway capacity will inform any decision regarding RAF Northolt operations.”