Cumbrian connections take off

April 13 2018  

Passenger flights from Carlisle resume in June after a 25 year hiatus to provide direct links to London, Belfast and Dublin. But encouraging inbound tourism to support the local economy is the main focus.
 
Journey times between London and the Lake District are set to be slashed from this summer as a new air route opens up between the capital and Carlisle.
Instead of taking over five hours by car or three and a half hours by train, the journey could be completed more than a whole hour quicker; once you factor in a rail trip east to Southend airport and time to check in.
 
“Those working in London could finish work on a Friday, get a flight up and be here that evening, before flying back down on the Sunday night ready for work on Monday,” says Carlisle Lake District Airport general manager Stephen Smith.
 
“While the focus for most UK airports is to take people away on holiday we are marketing this slightly differently; we are focused on bringing people to the local area to see the Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall,” he adds. “A lot of our inbound tourism is from South East England and international visitors coming to London. We are keen to tap into that market.”
 
Carlisle airport is a former RAF base and features a 1.8km long runway. A small number of commercial flights used to take off from the airport to destinations including Jersey and Stansted until passenger services ceased in 1993. Today the airport is used by executive jets, helicopters and flying clubs and is home to a collection of former military aircraft including the Avro Vulcan bomber.
 
The airport was bought by the Stobart Group in 2009 and negotiations around resuming flights have been ongoing since then. Its aim now is to see 100,000 passengers pass through the airport within a year on routes serving not only London Southend but Belfast and Dublin too.
 
Work started last September by the company’s rail and civils division to completely reconstruct and reprofile the runway, which previously featured a notable dip part way along its length. Taxiways have been rebuilt and a new aircraft apron installed for planes welcoming or discharging passengers.
 
Twenty thousand cubic metres of stone have been brought to site to rebuild the airfield and existing materials have been reprocessed and stabilised with lime for use as foundation layers. Sixty thousand square metres of dry lean concrete has been placed beneath new asphalt binder and surface courses.
 
New facilities for passengers include a two storey steel frame terminal, erected alongside a new car park and access roads, on the opposite side of the airfield to the private flight operations.
 
Stobart Group head of corporate projects Kate Willard says the airport’s reopening promises to help rejuvenate the region’s economy. “Airports are beacons of confidence and this one is already having an impact, with travel agents getting in touch and hotels saying they are thinking of expanding.”
 
Cumbrian resident and Stobart Rail managing director Kirk Taylor adds that local people will welcome vastly improved transport connectivity. “Businesses in Cumbria will certainly benefit as more people are encouraged up to the Lake District to visit a corner of the UK that is sometimes forgotten.
 
“Local people will no longer have to travel 90km east to Newcastle airport to catch a plane and many will be excited at the prospect of flying to Dublin to connect with a flight to America and being able to pass through US customs while still in Ireland,” he adds.
 
Around a third of the £15M cost of reviving Carlisle airport is being met by the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership. Its director Graham Haywood says the airport promises to be a “strong asset for Cumbria and the borderlands into South West Scotland”.
 
He adds that the airport will improve connectivity for several major developments nearby and be of benefit for “a whole range of multi national businesses on the west coast”.
 
Cumbria County Council member for economic development and property David Southward says: “There have been numerous attempts to reinvigorate the airport since the War, but one has to remain optimistic.
 
“There is a lot of potential here; I really hope it works out.”

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