Boost in oil and gas industry sees Norwich airport hit new heights

Andrew Bell, chief executive at Norwich International Airport. Photo: Bill Smith

Andrew Bell, chief executive at Norwich International Airport. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

Norwich Airport was one of the fastest growing hubs in the country last year, with a boom in oil and gas industry helicopter flights helping the city business take off.

New figures show a 38pc surge in 'movement' on the tarmac at Horsham St Faith - higher than any of the 35 biggest airports.

Its chief executive Andrew Bell that the growth was particularly driven by an increase in offshore helicopter activity.

Helicopter passenger numbers leapt to over 100,000 in the year to March 2014, up from 85,000 the previous year.

He said: 'After Aberdeen, which is clearly the biggest headquarters of the oil and gas industry, Norwich is the biggest heliport serving the oil and gas industry. We have quite a presence in that industry.'

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Simon Gray, chief executive of industry body the East of England Energy Group said there was a 'perfect storm' of factors which had seen the number of helicopter flights increase, including a greater requirement for maintenance as oil and gas rigs get older, and exploration in the North of the Southern North Sea.

And the number of offshore helicopter flights is set to increase further, amid new Civil Aviation Authority regulations in the wake of a spate of helicopter crashes.

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In June new rules were brought in which only allow workers to sit next to an emergency window exit, unless helicopters are fitted with extra flotation devices and better emergency breathing systems. New weather restrictions will also mean more flights are needed to allow helicopters to reach the rigs when the weather is fine.

Mr Bell also cited an increase in scheduled routes as another factor which has contributed to the growth, including a fourth daily route to Amsterdam and an increased frequency of Manchester flights.

In June self-made billionaire Sir Peter Rigby, secured an 81pc share of the business from the previous owners Omniport in a deal that will see both Norfolk Country Council and Norwich City Council keep hold of their stake in the transport hub.

He pledged to accelerate growth by expanding the airport's flight network.

It is now managed by Rigby Group's airport division Regional & City Airports (RCA), which also owns and operates Coventry and Exeter Airports.

Mr Bell said that they anticipated that the airport would growth further in the future, but it came in fits and starts.

Chris Starkie, managing director of the New Anglia local enterprise partnership, said: 'It is good news to see steady growth at Norwich International. The airport has invested heavily in its infrastructure, in particular in its business services to the offshore gas sector. This investment, along with additional passenger aircraft routes announced, mean it is well placed to help the economy to grow in the coming years.'

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