Norwich airport’s sunshine flights could be dropped this winter
PUBLISHED: 15:56 24 April 2017 | UPDATED: 08:18 25 April 2017
Doubts have been cast over the future of two key routes from Norwich airport, after they were omitted from an airline’s winter schedule.
The year-round ‘sunshine flights’ to Malaga and Alicante in Spain have been a major part of the airport’s bid to win back passengers since they were revived last year, but were left out of the 201-18 winter schedule which operator Flybe published last week.
But the airline – which just last month warned of poor financial results and threatened to stop “unprofitable flying” – said it was still in discussions with the airport and the flights could yet continue.
The two routes were re-launched in March 2016 after a nine-year absence from the schedules, and were welcomed by passengers and the travel industry.
Their return was one of the key priorities for Rigby Group Plc, which bought Norwich airport in 2014, as it sought to drive passenger numbers back up to their 2006-07 peak of 800,000 a year.
The owners expected the year-round flights to Spain to increase passenger numbers by 30,000, and in February the airport announced that it had handled 506,007 passengers in 2016, an increase of 10% on 2015.
When the first flight for Malaga took off last March, airport managing director Richard Pace said the response from passengers had been encouraging.
“We knew the demand was there and customers have been asking for it,” said Mr Pace. “Seats are selling well and we’ve seen good uptake from local passengers, which is what we need to make the five-year deal sustainable.”
Currently, passengers cannot book flights from Norwich to the Spanish resorts beyond October 28, 2017.
Flybe has endured a turbulent few weeks, warning last month that it expected to sink into the red when it posts its full-year results, a drop from last year’s pre-tax profits of £5.5m.
Chief executive Christine Ourmieres-Widener said Flybe would “continue to reduce costs, work with our partners to improve efficiency and stop unprofitable flying”.
A spokesman said the airline was “working closely” with the airport to finalise the winter programme. “Flybe remains committed to Norwich and to ensuring that it offers a regional schedule that best meets the needs of its customers,” he added.