Southampton Airport wins the battle for longer runway

GUERNSEY travellers could have greater access to the world through an expanded Southampton Airport, after planning permission was eventually granted to extend the Hampshire airport’s runway.

The 164m. extension to Southampton Airport runway is at the end furthest from the M27 motorway.
The 164m. extension to Southampton Airport runway is at the end furthest from the M27 motorway.

After 19 hours of debate over three days, Eastleigh Borough Council approved plans to increase the runway by 164 metres.

During the pandemic the airport has been Guernsey’s lifeline with the UK. But airport bosses had warned it could close if the extension was not granted.

Economic Development is responsible for promoting Guernsey’s economy.

President Deputy Neil Inder said the Guernsey government had sent a letter in support of the proposals and he welcomed the news that the project was moving forward.

‘A larger airport closer to Guernsey has got to be good news,’ he said.

‘If you have got a longer runway, you can have bigger planes and then greater access to the world.’

Southampton is also an important airport for Alderney. The route is the island’s only regular link with the UK, during normal times.

Alderney States member Ian Carter spoke at the planning meeting on Thursday night to reconfirm the island’s position of support.

Alderney’s Economic Development chairman Annie Burgess said the decision was a very positive outcome when considering the island’s future.

‘We recognise this is the beginning of a long process,’ she said.

‘We will have to make sure we keep Alderney’s needs properly considered and discussed. Southampton is an important direct route to the UK for our community and we recognise it as a lifeline route.

‘The good connectivity and ease of access to London with the proximity to the hospital makes Southampton an ideal destination. Business and tourist travel is well supported, as are returning students and the second home owner community.’

Prior to the pandemic, almost half of all Alderney passenger movements were to and from Southampton Airport, making it a significant economic enabler for the island.

The airport has struggled in recent years. Flybe collapsed last year, taking many of the airport’s international air links with it. Then the pandemic saw passenger numbers collapse and the airport’s opening hours cut back

Southampton Airport operations director Steve Szalay said the weekend’s news was what it had been hoping for and would safeguard the airport’s future.

‘We are excited about our future,’ he said. ‘This positive decision allows us to further develop our plans, play a full part in the Solent Freeport and deliver on our commitments set out within the planning application, which will further enrich our neighbouring communities.’

Blue Islands is set to restart its services between Guernsey and Southampton in May.

An airline spokesman said that while a runway extension was not required for the operation of regional services, such as those that Blue Islands and existing carriers at Southampton operate, this was still good news.

‘This will enable larger gauge aircraft for longer range routes, which will ensure Southampton Airport continues as a viable business and a key part south coast infrastructure, including job creation and all associated economic benefits,’ he said.

Aurigny declined to comment on the decision.

How the airport has developed

While the Southampton Airport site was used for flying in the early part of the 20th century, it became a municipal airport only in 1932 and was then used during the Second World War.

A big expansion came in the 1960s, when it was purchased by J.N. ‘Nat’ Somers. Mr Somers focused on making sure the airport had good transport links, negotiating to have the Southampton Parkway railway station and the junction with the M27, when it was built.

The current terminal was built in 1993 and passenger numbers went up to more than 1.5m. every year between 2004 and 2019. However Flybe’s collapse in early 2020 saw 95% of the airport’s routes lost.

Some, but not all, have since been picked up by other carriers. Aurigny operates a Guernsey and an Alderney route from the airport, while Blue Islands operates services to Guernsey and Jersey. The latter will soon also be operating routes to Dublin and Manchester.

British Airways, Eastern Airways and Loganair make up the bulk of the other routes, while easyJet, KLM and TUI offer limited services.

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