A tender for a new London route from City of Derry Airport is expected to be issued within weeks with a second route to Manchester also viewed as a priority, the ‘Journal’ can reveal today.
In a separate development, plans to construct a new, £multi-million hangar at City of Derry Airport, are also being examined.
Clive Coleman, Contracts Director with Regional & City Airports, which operates the Eglinton facility, said the hangar would be used to service aeroplanes belonging to a new airline carrier operating from Derry, and will lead to the creation of new jobs.
Following the announcement last month that Ryanair is to pull its London Stansted and Faro services, while also reducing its Liverpool schedule from next year, the airport and Derry & Strabane Council chiefs have been progressing plans for new carriers to take on key routes while also advancing airport development.
The plans have been boosted by a £7m injection from the N.I. Executive and British Government’s confirmation of support for a Public Service Obligation route from London beyond March.
Mr. Coleman said the PSO for the new London route is currently with the European Commission for approval.
“That application was made late September we are hoping that will get clearance in the next week or so,” Mr Coleman said. “As soon as that is approved the procurement of the PSO is a public competition and it’s a two month tender period. Hopefully the tender will be out by the end of the month.”
The chosen tender is expected to a regional UK or Irish carrier. Mr Coleman said: “We know we will get a carrier because airlines like PSO routes because their risk is so much more limited. We want a smooth transition. So Ryanair’s service stops on March 26 and the aim is to have something up and running on the 27th.
“The times will be better. The tender that has been drawn up has stipulated it will start the day in CoDA so it allows people to go over and do a full day’s business and come back in the evening.”
He also grounded widespread speculation-linked to the plans for a new runway- that the new flight from Derry could be a Heathrow route.
“There are six airports in London- Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City, Luton and Southend, but you will never get us into London Heathrow. We will not be going to Heathrow and it’s the same issues for Gatwick, but the way this PSO works, it is not for us to determine the airport, the airline will determine the airport.”
Mr. Coleman said that Airport bosses had actually taken measures earlier this year in the event Ryanair would pull the London route. “We had been speaking to the DfT for about a year with ‘what ifs’. We were prepared,” he said.
The NI Executive allocated a £7m assistance package several weeks ago, £2.5 million of which for route development.
Mr. Coleman said the main priority was to get a route to Manchester.
“Apart from London, Manchester is the most requested route from this airport and we see that as being key for us in terms of connectivity to the rest of UK, Europe and the world. We are also looking at other places like Birmingham and other routes like Edinburgh or Newcastle or Bristol.
“The use of that fund will become apparent over the next few weeks because we are going to, hopefully, be tendering the opportunities for airlines.”
Mr. Coleman said talks were ongoing to promote the airport with airlines ahead of this, with tendering for these routes expected this Autumn.
He added that, at the moment, the airport was not looking at going beyond the British Isles, adding: “I think we could get to European centres longer term.
“We really do want connectivity with Dublin. We haven’t given up on it. We are definitely looking at other options now. There are some talks going on with the Irish Government to help support it.”
The remainder of the money from the NI Executive - £4.5 million- is earmarked for the development of a new hangar.
Mr Coleman added: “There’s an opportunity - we have looked at the airport masterplan- to develop a hangar to support deep aircraft maintenance. It’s more about a jobs and skills base for the region. The £4.5m. is not the full cost of the hangar but its providing a significant proportion of the funds to enable the hangar to be built. The investment won’t be made until we have got guaranteed sustainable jobs behind it. We’d build it effectively for a tenant. It would be based somewhere in the airport.”
Mr. Coleman said the dramatic events over the past weeks had undoubtedly left the airport’s staff “unsettled,” but said he hoped this would change when the new routes were in place. The airport has 75 full time or full-time equivalent staff, 33 flexible staff and seven on-site concessions employing another 70 people.
Addressing those who have claimed the airport should be closed because of the annual subvention of over £2m from local ratepayers, Mr Coleman said: “As part of the PSO study we had it valued independently and the airports’ value to the local economy £15.7m.
“If the airport wasn’t here that would be £15.7m per year lost to the economy and that’s through jobs, direct and indirect, inbound investment, tourism, business.”
Meanwhile, the new summer 2017 Thompson/First Choice route to Palma Mallorca, was going “really, really well,” Mr Coleman said, while efforts are also being made to try to replace the popular Faro - which Ryanair are also pulling- route in the coming years.
Corporate income from private aircraft, meanwhile, has trebled at the airport following a promotional campaign.