Passenger numbers at Eastleigh’s award winning Airport continued to decline last year the Airport Consultative Committee were told at a meeting last week but the latest figures for January, released by BAA today, suggest there could be a turnaround.
Southampton Airport – which is situated entirely within the borough of Eastleigh- employs 1200 people and is estimated to contribute £100 million to the local economy but last year the combined effects of the recession , two periods of snow, strike disruption, volcanic activity and a hike in air passenger duty drove passenger numbers down to their lowest level in four years.
Last year’s passenger numbers of 1.73 million are down 12% from their peak of 1.96 million in 2007 while the snow in January and December pushed passenger numbers to below 100k for these months.
The drop in traffic has had some beneficial effects – complaints about noise from local households have decreased in line with the drop in traffic levels – last year they were down by 13.5%.
The airport was also voted ‘Top UK Airport 2011’ by Wanderlust travel magazine partly because, it claims, there are ‘fewer people’ – Wanderlust also declared Namibia and Luang Prabang as top holiday destinations for much the same reason (although you can’t fly direct to these places from Eastleigh.)
Airport manager David Lees had better news for the committee as he outlined operator’s plans for this year:
- Flybe have announced three new routes to France.
- Thomas Cook will be operating weekend flights throughout the summer to Majorca and Menorca while Thomson and First Choice will be using larger capacity aircraft on their holiday routes.
- Eastern Airways are adding an extra daily flight to Aberdeen.
He also announced the duty free area will undergo a major refit.
Almost 5000 jobseekers turned up recently at a job fair for 100 posts which will be needed to cope with the expected upturn in traffic this year.
There are grounds for optimism as the latest figures from airport owner BAA show January traffic across all their locations to be up 3.8% on last year – so barring erupting volcanoes, strikes and the economy slipping further into recession, these new routes should help the airport halt the slide in passenger numbers.
While air passenger numbers have been in decline it is interesting to note a recent report claims rail passenger numbers have been surging over the same period 6.9% more people travelling by train last year – nearly 37% since 2000 – more people than at any time since the 1920’s.
Michael Roberts, CEO of the Association of Train Operating Companies said today that the national railway network aims to cut carbon emissions by 50% adding:
“High speed rail has a vital role to play in encouraging people out of their cars, off domestic flights and onto trains.”
In November Councillor Louise Bloom – cabinet lead for champagne bottle recycling – told a Friends of the Earth meeting how Eastleigh is tackling climate change by forcing employees travelling on business to use the train rather than flying to short haul UK destinations.
Hopefully the Airport can turn things around because the future of the local economy is depends on its success.
The council’s boast in 2008 that it would create 9000 jobs on the old rail yards with businesses serving a thriving airport seems hollow at the moment.
Confusingly, despite local dependence on the airport, Eastleigh’s MP Chris Huhne backed the raising of air passenger duty and the single plane tax (which would also affect air freight) while Eastleigh council insists that staff travel by train rather than air.
Photo: BAA ltd