Air Southwest at Plymouth – supporting a local economy

Logos: Air Southwest and Plymouth CityLast year the cunningly-named Air Southwest operated around 3.3% of all UK domestic scheduled flights and transported 1.3% of all UK domestic air passengers on its fleet of five 50-seat Dash-8-300 turboprops.

The airline’s owner, Sutton Harbour Group, also owns its main base, Plymouth City Airport, as well as other significant property holdings including Sutton Harbour Marina which is an important part of the city’s waterfront. The health of the airport and airline are clearly beneficial to its activities.

The Plymouth catchment area is relatively tight – the regenerated city of 250,000 (famous for its military port from where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail) has a hinterland of smaller communities now centred on the leisure industry. The other nearest major city – Exeter – is under an hour away but as Flybe’s home base it also offers considerable competition – although curiously not a London service.

Chart: Air Southwest
Source: UK CAA

Air Southwest, which also centres its operations around the other ‘south west’ airports of Newquay and Bristol, carried 316,209 passengers in 2007 at an average load factor of 62.7%.

Annual traffic fell by 3.6% in 2007 (though load factors improved by 1.1 percentage points) and is down a further 8.4% in the first four months of 2008 (though load factors are again up).

Image: Air Southewest
Air Southwest operates twins (five 50-seat Dash-8-300 turboprops)
Image: Air Soutwest at Plymouth
Plymouth Airport is small – Air Southwest is currently the only scheduled operator and both airline and airport have a common shareholder – property company Sutton Harbour. Plans for the development of the airport announced in July unusually provide for the decommissioning of a runway so that brown land can be developed as “employment space.”

Airline and base airport share same owner

The airline was created in 2003 in response to British Airways’ decision to pull out of the region and a significant proportion of its capacity is assigned to operating four daily flights to London Gatwick. Flights to Gatwick operate from Plymouth via Newquay while the return journey tends to go to Newquay via Plymouth. A similar approach is taken on the airline’s new daily services to Glasgow and Newcastle which both started back in April.

Going international in 2008

Image: Where we fly
Click to enlarge

International flights were added this summer with the launch of Irish services to Cork and Dublin in April, although the real departure from its ‘low cost regional airline’ strategy comes in December with the start of a weekly service to Grenoble appealing wholly to the skiers.

Originally Chambery was going to be the airport served but due to congestion and the request of the local airport authority the flights have been moved to Grenoble. At two hours and 30 minutes the route will be the longest ever served by the airline.

Domestic routes that have been dropped include services from Bristol to Norwich plus flights from Cardiff to Newquay and Manchester, which were all dropped during 2007.

Image: Fly to Grenoble   Image: Ribbon Cutting
The ski flights from Plymouth and Newquay airports to Grenoble will run on Saturdays from 20 December 2008 to 28 March 2009. Fares start from £39 ($80) each way including taxes.   The airport claims a $200m annual contribution to the local economy. From 3 August there will be a second afternoon flight from Plymouth to Leeds/Bradford, complementing the existing morning departure.

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