Described by its own website as ‘one of the fastest growing regional airports in the UK,’ Newquay Cornwall Airport (NQY/EGDG) faces huge challenges to its future. Cornwall’s sole commercial airport uses airfield facilities provided by Royal Air Force (RAF) St. Mawgan. Located on the easterly side of the runway, current civilian operations rely upon those of the military to the west. Recent UK government decisions on the future of the RAF base, have forced the airport authority and airlines to plan for fundamental change in the next few years.

Newquay Airport is situated on an exposed headland just 6 miles (10 km) from the centre of the town. Always a popular summer holiday resort, Newquay has become one of Europe’s major surfing centres, drawing enthusiasts from around the world throughout the year. The airport is also marketed as the closest gateway to a number of Cornish attractions which have gathered international attention in recent years; the Eden Project close to St. Austell, the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth and the Tate gallery in St. Ives.

Located more than 250 miles from London and over 5 hours journey by road or rail, Newquay Airport caters to a significant market keen to fly from a local terminal. Although Plymouth is just 47 miles away, its runway is too short to allow anything more than limited operations by turboprops. The closest regional airports, Exeter (90 miles) and Bristol (140 miles), also require lengthy journeys in terms of both time anddistance. This remoteness however can cause its own problems when Newquay Airport is closed due to wild or foggy weather to which the field is prone.

The original civilian airfield on the current site opened in 1933. Trebelzue was requisitioned in 1939 and renamed RAF St. Mawgan in 1943. Operated by the USAF, the newly concreted and extended runway played a key role as a staging post for transatlantic ferry flights. In 1951, the airfield was reopened under Coastal Command and acted as a major fixed-wing base used for maritime reconnaissance and training until 1992. In these roles, St. Mawgan was home to Lancaster, Shackleton, Canberra and Nimrod aircraft. Currently, the airfield is a major helicopter Search and Rescue (SAR) centre and maintenance base.

Civilian operations have always been carried out on a far more limited scale than those of the military. In the years after the war, lifeline routes to the Isles of Scilly, London and other parts of the UK were maintained by a succession of independent airlines using a variety of classic equipment. From Rapides of Mayflower Air Services and Scillonia, to Islanders operated by Brymon Airways and Westward Airways, through Dakotas of Skyways and British Westpoint to Viscounts and Heralds of British Midland and Brymon, the small civilian terminal saw them all.

In 2004, Newquay Airport saw 278,000 passengers and over 1,000 scheduled aircraft movements. These figures represent a hefty 49% increase on figures for 2002.Commercial operations are maintained from the single storey terminal building which is owned by Cornwall County Council (CCC) and managed on their behalf by Serco. The building is small with basic facilities. Providing four check-in desks, the terminal offers a café, a pleasant seating area with limited views over the ramp, a departure lounge with two gates and an arrivals hall with a single baggage belt. In terms of transport links, the airport is well-served by local buses and taxis and offers car hire provided by several major players.

At busy times, the check-in area and departure lounge can suffer from overcrowding. To help to alleviate these problems, a £2.8 million terminal extension is due for completion in early 2006. In addition to providing additional space for passengers, the works will increase the number of car parking spaces beyond the 450 currently available. When completed, the extended terminal will increase the annual passenger capacity to 400,000.
Civilian aircraft use airfield facilities provided by the RAF. Most significant of these is the runway (13/31, 9,006 ft/2,745 m), which is one of the longest in the UK. Additionally, the military are also contracted to provide air traffic control (ATC), lighting, rescue, fire fighting, runway and taxiway maintenance.

Demands by the business community for speedy connections to the rest of the UK are reflected in the bulk of operations from the airport. In terms of movements, the airport’s largest operator is Air Southwest with their fleet of four DHC-8-300. In addition to four daily return flights on the prime route to London Gatwick, the airline also schedules flights to Bristol, Dublin, Leeds/Bradford and Manchester. In the 2005 timetable, the latter two destinations required a change of plane in Bristol. From April 2006 however, they will be served non-stop and will be joined by twice-daily flights to Cardiff. In addition, Air Wales have added a daily operation to Cork with ATR42 aircraft. Based in the Isle of Scilly, Skybus provide up to 20 weekly flights linking Newquay with St. Mary’s using DHC-6 Twin Otter equipment. Some of these flights originate in Southampton and stage through the airport on their journey west.

The domestic leisure market has always provided seasonal traffic and low-cost carriers have been quick to realise the potential. Ryanair were the first to do so with a daily, then double daily, Boeing 737 service to London Stansted. For Summer 2006, BMI Baby will operate daily Boeing 737 flights to Manchester along with four weekly services to Durham Tees Valley. In a major expansion, on November 3, 2005, Monarch Airlines introduced a thrice weekly scheduled service from Málaga using an Airbus A320 newly based on the Costa Del Sol. Although no regular inclusive tour (IT) flights are operated, ad-hoc visits are made by aircraft of Finnair, Austrian Airlines and Swiss International in addition to charters to Barbados ferrying cruise passengers.

From October 29, 2005 every departing passenger, over the age of 16, has been obliged to pay £5 as an Airport Development Fee (ADF). Following the example set by Kerry County and Knock in the Irish Republic, Newquay is the first airport in the UK to introduce such a charge. Funds generated by the fee are to be used to pay for the terminal extension and to meet the cost of improving facilities and infrastructure. The amount, set at its current level until 2008, has to be paid by cash or card via machines located at the entrance to security. Passengers receive a ticket as proof of payment which is collected by airline staff with boarding cards at the gate. The airport operators hope that in due course the fee will be collected when passengers purchase tickets, thus making the machines redundant. In an effort to reduce the impact of the charge on core passengers, the airport has reduced the price of long-term car parking.

In November 2005, the UK government revealed that the RAF’s new Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) would be based at Lossiemouth in Scotland from 2013. One of the short listed candidates for this deployment was St. Mawgan. As a result of this decision, it was announced that RAF St. Mawgan would close by the end of March 2007 with the loss of 1,200 military and civilian jobs. It had already become clear in 2004 that operational flying would cease in 2006 with the transfer of the SAR facility to RAF Valley.

With the closure of RAF St. Mawgan, the airfield functions currently undertaken by the military will need to pass into civilian hands. The costs of safeguarding continued commercial operations will rise considerably. It is for this reason that Cornwall County Council has placed so much importance on the introduction of the ADF. The levying of the charge has brought strong resistance from airlines, with the loudest objections being made by Ryanair. In November 2005, the airline withdrew one of its two daily flights to London Stansted in protest. It has been estimated that this withdrawal will reduce passenger numbers by nearly 100,000 per annum. In addition, press reports at the time suggested that the airline had cancelled plans to offer direct flights to Spain and Italy owing to its introduction. At the end of December, there were also reports that the airline was planning to withdraw all services at the end of March 2006. Adding to the air of uncertainty, Monarch confirmed that it was reviewing the future of its own operation beyond the end of April 2006.

With the impending closure of RAF St. Mawgan, the operators of Cornwall Newquay Airport need to secure its viability and long-term future. The airport is successful with increasing demand and passenger numbers (prior to Ryanair’s decision to leave). In being the first airport in the UK to introduce a direct fee to pay for development, the airport authorities have taken a bold step. It remains to be seen whether passengers and airlines will accept the strategy and allow the civilian airport’s continued operation after March 2007.


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