It has not been a good year for plane spotters, with passenger jets a rare sight – particularly at the UK’s regional airports.
Smaller airports have mostly quietly wound down, but distress calls have been loud and clear from the major hubs, with Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester Airports Group (MAG) collectively losing £50 million a day and facing fixed costs of £335 million while operating at 20% capacity.
How some regional airports would love a slice of that 20%.
Newquay, for example, is closed until late March, Southampton shut at weekends during February, while others are relying mainly on freight and flights bringing in medical supplies.
“Cargo has provided some help, but we need passengers back,” says an East Midlands airport (EMA) spokesperson.
“They are our main source of revenue. It’s not a viable business without them. We desperately need some sort of summer season.”
East Midlands, an established freight hub, is more fortunate than some. Despite passenger numbers 94% down year-on-year, cargo volumes are up 13%, with December 2020 a record month, up 43%, and with DHL launching four new US routes.
East Midlands is part of MAG, which describes the volume of goods handled this summer as “more akin to what we would expect to see in the run-up to Christmas”.
However, cargo can only go so far to help with fixed running costs. “We currently have no passenger flights scheduled to and from EMA until mid-March, at the earliest, but this date may be pushed back even further depending on demand,” the spokesperson adds.
MAG, Heathrow and Gatwick claim the Job Retention Scheme has covered less than a sixth of total bills, while the government’s Airport Support Scheme has provided only £46.5 million of £186 million running costs.