Carlisle Lake District reopens to commercial aviation for the first time in 25 years

After a couple of false starts, Carlisle Lake District Airport has now opened, providing new connections for Carlisle and the Lake District. Kimberley Young heads to the Cumbrian gateway to find out more.


Carlisle Lake District Airport began life around 1941 in defence of the realm as RAF Crosby-on-Eden – a Royal Air Force base buzzing with Hurricane fighters and a pilot training facility. It was mothballed post-war – before development in the early 1960s brought the launch of commercial flights. But these struggled and commercial flights ceased in 1988. Now, for the first time in more than 25 years, Carlisle Lake District Airport is once again preparing to welcome commercial air passengers, with services by Loganair to London, Dublin and Belfast City. “I think Carlisle Lake District Airport is situated very deep in the Cumbrian psyche, as well as South Scotland and the Borderlands,” Kate Willard, head of corporate projects at Stobart Group and project lead at Carlisle Lake District Airport, says. “Regional airports aren’t just points of connectivity – they are symbols of confidence, identity and heritage, of links with the past and with aspirational links to the future.” The airport has undergone a period of expansion and redevelopment, with support from Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) investment of £4.95m to help make improvements to a new terminal and runway, with the ability to service up to an Airbus A319 aircraft.

Carlisle Lake District Airport

CLOUDS GATHER

The project hasn’t always been smooth sailing, however – the opening was originally planned for 2018 but was postponed twice to spring 2019. Willard explains: “Arguably we set a very high bar with the construction and training plan, and with the worldwide shortage of ATC staff, we just didn’t get over the line with the ATC rostering last year. It was a tremendous blow for the team The Carlisle Airport plans will be a great boost for Cumbria’s connectivity and our £2.9 billion tourism industry. who worked so hard but at the end of the day safety and security take precedence over everything.” The airport re-approached ATC training, putting more people in place and redesigning the training plan, working with Air Navigation Solutions for ATC training using state-of-the-art simulators in Scotland. “Now we are absolutely ready to go on 4 July,” Willard says. Though it has a new ATC tower, the airport will be using its existing control tower for the re-opening. Willard says: “We feel that would introduce too much risk to try to move the control tower at the same time as trying to commence services, so we’re going to use the existing and compliant control tower, certainly for this season, and look to transition at a slightly later stage.” Despite the setbacks, the airport did re-open to general aviation in 2018, winning at the Airport Operators Association (AOA) annual awards for ‘Best General Aviation Airport’. The airport won’t be leaving its military service behind either as its links with maritime patrols will be a source of revenue, Willard enthuses: “When you run a regional airport you have to be creative about the commercial picture, we don’t have miles of lucrative car parking or duty-free shopping and therefore one is forced to be more creative about how you deliver revenue streams.”

TOURISM DRAW

For the re-opening of commercial service at the airport, Scottish-carrier Loganair will be launching flights to London Southend, Dublin and Belfast City using its Saab 340 aircraft. Tourism will of course be an important driver for passengers to the airport, especially with Cumbria Tourism’s aim for the region to become Europe’s number one rural tourism destination. Gill Haigh, head of Cumbria Tourism, says: “The Carlisle Airport plans will be a great boost for Cumbria’s connectivity and our £2.9 billion tourism industry. Cumbria Tourism has consistently supported Stobart’s development plans for many years and are working closely with the airport, airline and businesses to help maximise awareness of and travel through the airport.” Willard points out that the airport is not trying to displace visitors already travelling to the region by train, but to open it up to new markets: “The London service will be served by London Southend Airport which itself serves a broad catchment including South Essex and East London, and those communities traditionally have not travelled to the Lake District because it’s a six to eight-hour drive.” The service to Dublin will provide a convenient link for transatlantic passengers as they will be able to clear US immigration checks from Dublin Airport, landing in the US as a domestic passenger. The new routes will also be convenient for business travellers who are currently commuting to Cumbria says Willard revealing that “the pricing we’ve got competes very favourably with a tank or two of petrol.”

St Bees Cliffs

SECURE FOR THE FUTURE

As a smaller airport, the ease of access will be a big selling point particularly for business travellers. The airport won’t provide a duty-free offering, but the Borderlands Café will offer homeprepared goods and has also been working with Cumbrian producers to retail local brands and produce. Beyond the opening, the airport does have aims for growth, Willard says, but “first and foremost we need to make this airport sustainable and that’s going to be our priority, we’ll be bedding down the existing routes and not trying to run before we can walk!” .


Read the June issue of Regional Gateway here.

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