Analysis: Norwich Airport ambitions depend upon a wider appetite for regional airports

PUBLISHED: 11:10 06 July 2017 | UPDATED: 18:43 06 July 2017

Richard Pace, managing director at Norwich Airport. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Richard Pace, managing director at Norwich Airport. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

Norwich Airport’s plans strike an ambitious note – but the plans are part of a wider push to rebalance UK air travel, writes business editor Mark Shields.

When you booked your last holiday, did you consider flying from Norwich?

If not – if you instead opted for Stansted, Luton or trekked around the M25 for your flight – then Norwich Airport has its eye on you.

The airport wants to sell itself as a smoother and speedier alternative to those busier rivals, playing up the fact that passengers can fly almost anywhere in the world from the airport on their doorstep.

It has calculated it has more than 2.27 million people within an hour’s drive – but knows that those potential passengers are flying from elsewhere, tempted by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet who have eaten into the popularity of chartered holiday flights.

Norwich Airport is not alone in this ambition to rebalance airport capacity away from the South East of England and share the benefits with regional hubs.

Its owner, Regional and City Airports (RCA), also own airports in Exeter and Coventry, and is understandably keen to underline the potential that these smaller airports have to power the rest of the economy in their region.

Yet in an industry as expensive as aviation, getting new initiatives off the ground is not easy – and the truth is that passengers base their decisions not just on convenience, but on price.

MORE: Revealed: Norwich Airport’s 30-year vision to treble passenger numbers and forge worldwide links

While the national discussion in recent years has been dominated by whether to add capacity at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted, RCA claims that allowing smaller airports to compete on a level playing field could spread the benefits.

RCA is calling for changes to air passenger duty – charged by government – and argues that cutting it for smaller airports would free up the funds which could make new routes possible.

MORE: Links with Paris and Dublin could boost worldwide choice for Norwich Airport passengers

It also wants a second round of the Regional Air Connectivity Fund, a government-backed scheme which provided £7m to kick-start 11 domestic flight routes which were not yet commercially viable, giving airlines the chance to build demand.

Yet just 18 months after the money was awarded, only the Norwich to Exeter flight is still running.

As an example of how cross-country links can be forged, a trade delegation will come to Norfolk later this month for discussions on how businesses can work together in sectors where both regions have specialisms.

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