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Flying start for Finningley

RAF Finningley was one of the RAF’s busiest stations until it closed in 1996 and now presents an ideal opportunity to create a new regional airport in the North East. Claire Symes reports.

Air travel is rapidly increasing in the UK but with London’s airports approaching capacity the growing demand for both international and domestic flights may have to be met by regional airports. According to Civil Aviation Authority figures up to 5M people a year travel from Yorkshire & Humberside to another region to start an air journey. Planning to offer an alternative is Peel Holdings, Liverpool Airport majority shareholder, which is seeking approval to invest 40M converting the former RAF Finningley airbase near Doncaster to a regional airport which could handle over 2.3M passengers and 62,000t of freight annually by 2014.

Scott Wilson is heading the team of specialists providing planning advice for the conversion of RAF Finningley for Peel Holdings.

‘Former military airbases present the perfect solution to meet rising demand for the simple reason that the airport infrastructure already exists, ’ says Scott Wilson airport director David Farthing. ‘Disused airbases are classed as brownfield sites and redevelopment fits in well with Government policies. And the existing facilities allow for rapid development.’

‘Finningley is a prime location for a new regional airport, ’ adds Peel Holdings director of land and planning Peter Nears. ‘Not only is it close to both the national rail and road network, it also has the second longest runway in northern England. This adds the potential for serving long haul passenger and cargo as well as chartered and scheduled carriers.’

RAF Finningley was closed in 1996 after 60 years of service.

Once Peel Holdings recognised the potential of the airbase as a regional airport it appointed Scott Wilson to carry out a prepurchase feasibility study in 1998. ‘We initially looked at the suitability of Finningley as a civilian airport and assessed the extent of modifications that would be required to gain a CAA licence, ’ says Farthing.

‘Assessment of the existing site confirmed that all the essential ingredients of runway, control tower, air ground lighting and hangars are already in place and viable. Some of the facilities would have to be upgraded to meet CAA standards and a new 13,500m 2passenger terminal building would also be needed.’

Ownership of the airbase was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to Peel Holdings in June 1999.

Scott Wilson was then commissioned by the new owner to draw up the necessary masterplans, designs and environmental impact assessments for a planning permission application.

The work covered every potential implication of the new airport, from how passengers would get there through to the environmental impact of the development on local people.

Doncaster Finningley, as the new airport will be known, will create 7,300 jobs by 2014.

Nears says: ‘We anticipate most of the jobs will be in airport related industries and spin off businesses which will produce a wide variety and range of jobs and could attract up 40M of private investment to the site. The airbase also has over 70,000m 2ofoffices, industrial units and storage facilities to let which is already attracting more investment.’

Peel Holdings’ plans for Finningley are supported by EC funds and local businesses. Director of aircraft maintenance company NDT Aerospace David Firth says: ‘There is huge undercapacity in the UK for commercial aircraft maintenance. Many UK operators send their aircraft to Ireland or elsewhere in Europe because there are few alternatives. Doncaster Finningley Airport is an ideal location for our business as it provides a real opportunity to expand our capabilities and return maintenance revenue to the UK.’

A study commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in 1998 showed the aviation industry in the UK generated 35,000M of exports but only a small fraction of this total is flown out from Yorkshire & Humberside.

Peel Holdings commercial director Neil Pakey says: ‘Runway length is a vital consideration for airlines looking to transport cargo on passenger aircraft. But runways at most existing airports in the Yorkshire and Humberside region are too short for fully laden aircraft to take off from which drastically affects the potential for cargo carriers in the area.

‘Cargo from the region is being exported by road to other regional airports along with associated jobs and revenue.

Both freight and commercial operators have expressed an interest in operating from Finningley and will not only give businesses in the region a more competitive edge but also enable operators to offer better value passenger flights.’

‘Creation of a regional airport at Finningley could save over 34M km of road travel, reducing both congestion and pollution, ’ Farthing adds. ‘Access proposals for Finningley include reopening the railway station and the eventual development of a spur from the main line directly into the airport.’

‘Road junction improvements and integrated public transport systems are also being planned as part of the 40M investment in development by Peel Holdings.

‘Civilian aircraft are quieter than many of the military aircraft which used the airbase in the past but we have put in place plans to soundproof properties close to the airport. Night flights will be regulated and restrictions imposed on high powered engine testing to reduce the potential impact, ’ says Nears.

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