Speaking to the media in the wake of Stobart Group’s annual results last week, chief executive Andrew Tinkler predicted that scheduled passenger flights from Carlisle would start in summer 2018.
Cynics might say, ‘We’ve heard it all before’.
Hopes were raised in November 2015 when the then Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the Government would support three routes from Carlisle with seedcorn funding from the Regional Air Connectivity Fund.
The lack of a functioning airport is a credibility issue for Cumbria.
Services to London Southend, Belfast and Dublin were expected to start within months. So why are we still waiting?
Stobart Group needs to carry out infrastructure works, in particular to the runway, to bring the airport up to Civil Aviation Authority standards for scheduled passenger services.
It has secured £4.75m of Growth Deal funding, but the grant is awaiting sign off under EU state aid rules. Once the money is released, work can start.
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, is keen to see passenger services begin as soon as possible.
He said: “The lack of a functioning airport is a credibility issue for Cumbria.
“It was identified as a priority when we consulted businesses on the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper earlier this year.”
The plan is to base a Stobart Air 48-seater aircraft at Carlisle, offering twice-daily flights to London Southend Airport, which Stobart also owns, one return trip in the morning and one in the evening.
This would allow business people from Cumbria to spend a day in London, and those based in London to visit Cumbria and get back. There is a railway station at London Southend with regular trains to London in under an hour.
International links like these are going to be even more important after Brexit as we seek to develop new trading relationships beyond the EU.
Stobart also plans daily return flights from Carlisle to Belfast and Dublin.
The Dublin route is of particular interest for businesses because Dublin is an international hub airport with onward connections to the US and Canada.
Passengers would be able to fly into Dublin, go through all US immigration and customs inspections there and then board an Aer Lingus transatlantic flight to New York, Orlando, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco.
It is also possible to fly from Dublin to Toronto in Canada.
Rob added: “International links like these are going to be even more important after Brexit as we seek to develop new trading relationships beyond the EU.
“It’s not just business people who will use these services. The flights will be ideal for tourists visiting the Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall. A functioning airport can be a real boost to the Cumbrian economy.”
Passenger services operated by Stobart Air, formerly Aer Arann, were part of a masterplan to redevelop the airport, which also involved construction of a 315,000sq ft freight distribution centre.
The distribution centre was completed in 2015 after Stobart Group overcame legal challenges from a neighbouring farmer.© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce