Airport hits turbulence

Passengers flying from Norwich Airport have been put off by costly fares and a lack of destinations with bosses accused of using a controversial terminal tax to boost profits instead of providing more routes and services.

Passengers flying from Norwich Airport have been put off by costly fares and a lack of destinations with bosses accused of using a controversial terminal tax to boost profits instead of providing more routes and services.

Those were among the damning findings of a joint internal report surveying what leading local businesses in Norfolk thought of the airport, conducted by the economic development partnership Shaping Norfolk's Future and the University of East Anglia.

The survey asked 84 leading business figures what they thought of the airport.

Common complaints included flights being too expensive which was putting off small businesses, and the five minute restriction on free parking which makes passengers “go through a hurrying experience”.

Passengers flying from Norwich pay a �5 fee which raises around �700,000 a year to fund developments around the terminal.

And the report, which has not been released for publication, said the airport should be more upfront on how the money raised from its airport development fee (ADF) is being spent so that customers could see for themselves any benefits.

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Bosses should also be looking to attract more budget airlines to the city, and add new routes to Paris, Glasgow, Bristol and Newcastle.

The report also found business users felt there was a risk that too much focus on the offshore industry.

Flights to Amsterdam were too pricey and the costs and quality of the catering service was also criticised.

“There is a feeling among the businesses that the development fee that is being collected from passengers is being used to increase the profits for Norwich International Airport,” the report said. “The caf� shop at the airport is too expensive. Passengers feel that Norwich International Airport is more concerned with the high rent they receive from the caf� and not on the service they provide to passengers.”

But last night Elliott Summers, managing director of the Norwich International Airport, issued a robust defence of the business and said that many of the issues raised were already being dealt with.

“It has been written by somebody who doesn't understand the business,” he said. “Low fare airlines do not pay enough and do not have small enough aircraft to make it pay,” he said. “We have tried low fares with LTE and it didn't work.”

And he said passengers were now given a breakdown of what the ADF is being used on, while the fee has also been used to help attract new operators.

“There are big billboards in the airport terminal which sets out what it is all about,” he added. “It would be true to say that all the new routes we are about to launch, and there are now 11, have been done on the back of ADF. The other thing we are trying to do is make ADF available at the point of sale.”

Passenger numbers have fallen by 17pc between 2007/08 and were 582,973 in 2008 from a peak of 745,192 two years earlier. The report said one of the important reasons for the drop was Flybe's decision to cancel flights including Dublin, Glasgow, Blackpool, Chambery, Alicante, Malaga on account of the rising airport taxes.

The airport currently offers flights to seven destinations provided by three operators, but connections to Amsterdam gave access to 300 destinations worldwide.

However passenger numbers to Amsterdam have dropped by 10pc as more people were flying from Stansted. A Stansted to Amsterdam flight costs around �75, while a trip from Norwich including the ADF costs �137.

Mr Elliott said the airport was working hard to provide more routes.

“There will be routes to mainland Spain and another destination very close to Spain and another more exotic destination. We have also got Tunisia, Bulgaria, and Guernsey,” he added.

“There are a lot of routes out there and we are working very hard to get them. In the next year we will probably be the fastest growing airport in percentage terms in the UK, we have that much good stuff. We are working with KLM already on how to get the pricing right and make sure it's more competitive

“We are looking across the whole board - its leisure travel, offshore, and business. They are valid comments, but we are working on them.”

Chris Starkie, chief executive of Shaping Norfolk's Future said the report was a private piece of work to help the airport get a better understanding of the views of its business customers and help make it a success.

“We believe within the report there are some recommendations which we hope the airport over time will consider implementing,” he said. “Business people were saying that Norwich Airport isn't maximising its potential and we wanted to find out why this is. Some of the things are true and some are perception, but we believe that the airport needs to consider this.”