BUDGET airline easyJet announced today that there is “insufficient demand” to pick up the Newquay to London Gatwick air link after it is scrapped by Flybe next year.
The news means Cornwall will be left without direct flights to the capital from April 2014 – a situation that experts fear could have dire repercussions for the county’s economy.
The Cornish Guardian reported last week that Newquay and St Austell MP Stephen Gilbert had launched a campaign to convince easyJet chiefs to continue the Gatwick service.
He said: “I’m absolutely gutted by easyJet’s decision. This will come as a real blow to businesses across Cornwall who rely on the air link to London to take goods and services to market and bringing investment and visitors into Cornwall.
“I will be meeting with ministers to see what additional support the Government can provide in the hope that this may change the commercial decision that easyJet have made.”
In its statement, easyJet revealed it could not justify picking up the Gatwick service, but had decided to increase summer flights to London Southend from three to four a week.
While the Southend route has proved popular, critics say the airport is too far from the capital to be attractive to holidaymakers, commuters and potential investors.
An easyJet spokeswoman said: “Following Flybe’s decision to cease operating between Newquay and London Gatwick, easyJet carefully and thoroughly examined the commercial viability of offering year round services on the route. After much consideration, all of the evidence clearly shows that there is insufficient demand to sustain such a service using an A319 aircraft with 156 seats.”
Flybe announced in May that it was selling all its Gatwick flight slots to easyJet for £20 million, blaming airport charges, air passenger duty and “penalistic” government policy for the decision.
It currently operates three flights a day, 7 days a week, in the summer, switching to three flights on week days and four over the weekend during the winter months.
Cornwall Council, which owns Newquay Cornwall Airport, welcomed the news that the Southend flights would be increased in the summer but added it was “disappointed” that the Gatwick link would not be resurrected.
Adam Paynter, the cabinet member for partnerships, said: “Providing a regular air link to London is very important to the economy of Cornwall and we remain in discussions with a number of other airlines to maintain this vital link. As part of these continuing discussions we will also be seeking the support of Cornwall’s six MPs and the Government to explore all options.”
Business and tourism leaders have said the loss of the Gatwick link will have a negative impact on Cornwall’s economy.
Tim Jones, of the Devon and Cornwall Business council, said: “There had been high hopes that this vital link would be maintained and the consequences of the peninsula not having a direct London link are something that will have a big impact on the Cornwall economy.
“It is now essential that the Government recognises that we suffer badly from a lack of infrastructure and that they look favourably on an application we might make to the Regional Air Connectivity Fund, which is to help fund airports in remote areas.”
Malcolm Bell, head of tourist board Visit Cornwall, said: “It is disappointing from a tourism perspective and it is a missed opportunity to have more routes into Europe.”