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Concerns growing over threat to Doncaster Sheffield Airport

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Thousands of people have signed a petition to save a regional airport after its owners announced it may no longer be commercially viable.

News that Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s (DSA) owner, the Peel Group, has launched a “review of strategic options” has been greeted with dismay across South Yorkshire where the facility is seen as a key part of economic development plans for the region.

Political leaders have urged Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to intervene.

The airport issued a statement which said the review “follows lengthy deliberations by the board of DSA which has reluctantly concluded that aviation activity on the site may no longer be commercially viable”.

The airport opened in 2005 after it was converted by the Peel Group from the old RAF Finningley airbase.

It said in its statement that DSA has never achieved a critical mass of passengers to become profitable and this “fundamental issue of a shortfall in passenger numbers” was exacerbated by the announcement last month of the withdrawal of Wizz Air.

This left the airport with Tui as the only one base carrier.

The firm said the “challenge has been increased by other changes in the aviation market, the well-publicised impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and increasingly important environmental considerations”.

It said: “It has therefore been concluded that aviation activity may no longer be the use for the site which delivers the maximum economic and environmental benefit to the region.”

Robert Hough, chairman of Peel Airports Group, said: “It is a critical time for aviation globally. Despite pandemic-related travel restrictions slowly drawing to a close, we are still facing ongoing obstacles and dynamic long-term threats to the future of the aviation industry.

“The actions by Wizz to sacrifice its base at Doncaster to shore up its business opportunities at other bases in the South of England are a significant blow for the airport.”

Shadow transport secretary and Sheffield Labour MP Louise Haigh said she has written to Mr Shapps asking him what he will do to save the airport, saying the announcement presents a “significant issue for the competitiveness of our city and region as a whole”.

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard said: “It’s disappointing that Peel do not seem willing to match our ambition for DSA and have not been able to unlock the evident potential of an airport with a prospective customer base of millions.

“I am seeking an urgent meeting with Peel Group to find the best path forward for the communities of South Yorkshire, and I’ll be speaking directly to Government about the importance of our regional airport to the economic prospects of South Yorkshire.”

An online petition launched to “Save Doncaster Sheffield Airport” reached 13,000 signatures on Thursday, with one contributor saying: “Doncaster is a highly connected city with good motorway and railway links. How can the Government be serious about levelling up if it allows closure?”

GMB organiser Sarah Barnes said: “This news will be a deep shock to many of our members at Doncaster Sheffield Airport where GMB has sole recognition.

“In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis the last thing our members and neighbouring communities need is uncertainty about their jobs and futures.

“During the pandemic we met with the Government to secure an economic package for aviation which would save regional airports.

“Ministers continue to bail out airlines like BA – who’ve slashed workers’ pay using fire and rehire – but leave regional airports to struggle.”

A Government spokesman said: “We recognise Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s announcement of a review into the future of the airport will be concerning for passengers and workers, and the Government is in close contact with the airport to understand its plans.

“While this will be a commercial decision for the owners of the airport, we hope they conclude after consultation with stakeholders that there is a viable aviation future for the airport.

“Regional airports are key in serving our local communities, supporting thousands of jobs in the regions and act as a key gateway to international opportunities.

“We will continue to bring forward our plans to level up and ensure the whole of the UK has the connections people need.”

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