Doncaster Sheffield To Close After Failing To Secure 'Critical Mass' Of Airlines

Credit: Doncaster Sheffield Airport

Peel Group, the owners of Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA), have decided to close the facility, with the airport in northern England due to begin winding down operations from Oct. 31.

The decision follows the launch of a strategic review into the airport’s operation by Peel—an infrastructure, transport and real estate investment firm—in July, after it struggled to secure what it called a “critical mass” of airlines to operate from the airport.

Since the review was launched, Peel stated that no “tangible proposals” have been received regarding the airport’s ownership or address what it calls a “fundamental lack of financial viability.”

“The high-fixed costs associated with running a safe, regulated airport, together with recent events materially reducing prospective future aviation income streams, mean that a break-even business plan cannot be identified for the foreseeable future,” Peel said in a Sept. 26 statement. The company states that even proposals presented by local authorities—which identified the economic benefit to the area—provided no solution to the lack of financial viability.

“We recognize that this will come as a great disappointment to many,” Peel Airports Chairman Robert Hough said. “The intractable problem remains the fundamental and insufficient lack of current or prospective revenue streams, together with the airport’s high operating costs.”

DSA, which served 1.4 million passengers in 2019, was first opened in 2005 by re-developing the runway and facilities of the former RAF Finningley.

Peel hoped that the airport would appeal to airlines looking to address a potential market of 6.2 million people living within a 60-min. road journey of the airfield. But the airport struggled to find carriers, finally attracting leisure carrier TUI and LCC Wizz Air. However, in June, Wizz Air decided to axe a large number of routes from the airport, prompting Peel’s review. TUI has since announced it will perform its final flight from the airport on Nov. 4.

The decision by Peel has drawn anger from local government. Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones said Peel had been “uncompromising and unreasonable,” adding that the council had made what she called a realistic offer of a financial lifeline, offering to support the airport for 13 months.

“It is now clear that Peel was never seriously interested in looking at the opportunities offered to them, which have been developed at pace and in good faith, preferring to close the airport and seek to develop the land for other uses which could generate greater commercial value for them and their shareholders,” Jones said. Councilor Terry Fox, the leader of Sheffield City Council, said the authorities had made a “massive effort” to get Peel to consider alternatives.

The council said it was now calling on central government to protect the airport and its infrastructure. Peel Group Chief Executive Steven Underwood said the company would not accept any public sector grant to cover the costs of the airport.

He said public funding from the councils would only “postpone the inevitable for another thirteen months,” and divert funds away from communities in the local area.

Closure of Doncaster Sheffield would add to the growing list of UK airports that have closed or had to be nationalized. Blackpool airport was forced to close to passenger operations, while airports of Cardiff (CWL), Wales, and Prestwick (PIK), Scotland, were both nationalized to save them from closure by the respective Welsh and Scottish governments.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.