Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA) in the UK has announced it is to wind down aviation services after a strategic review conducted by the Peel Group has ended without finding a tangible proposal to address the airport’s lack of financial viability.
This reduction process will begin during the week commencing October 31, 2022. The airport said in a statement that “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.”
Since the July 2022 announcement of the strategic review, Peel has been engaging local and national political stakeholders on a weekly basis, including proactively engaging with working group meetings, primarily led by officers at Doncaster council, South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) and the Department for Transport (DfT). Throughout the consultation process up, Peel has also been in contact with the airlines and other aviation users of the airport. However, none of these discussions delivered tangible results that have changed the board of DSA or Peel’s view that the airport is and will remain unviable.
Peel received a letter from the Mayor of South Yorkshire and Mayor of Doncaster on September 8, stating that they had completed an economic impact study of DSA which identified its economic benefit to the region but provided no solution to its lack of financial viability. Furthermore, they informed Peel that they had been approached by a group interested in purchasing or operating the airport. Peel has yet to receive a response to urgent requests for details on the consortium’s identity, nor have the terms of any proposal or evidence of the consortium’s financial standing or aviation expertise been provided.
On September 23, SYMCA and Doncaster council offered public money to DSA to fund the airport’s operating losses until October 31, 2023. The grant was described as providing DSA with free cash flow to sustain losses that may occur over 13 months while the Peel Group and South Yorkshire partners jointly explore the future potential of DSA and the GatewayEast site. In the absence of any actual proposals to address the lack of viability of DSA, even those at an early stage of development, or any identified potential acquirers or operators of DSA, Peel’s board concluded that it cannot responsibly accept public money for this highly uncertain process against the backdrop of an unviable, loss-making operating business.
Robert Hough, chairman of Peel Airports Group, which includes Doncaster Sheffield Airport, said, “We recognize that this will come as a great disappointment to many. The intractable problem remains the fundamental and insufficient lack of current or prospective revenue streams, together with the airport’s high operating costs. Our employees have always been DSA’s greatest asset, and we are grateful to them all, past and present, for their dedication and diligence over the years.
“The immediate priority remains to continue engaging closely with them over the next few weeks. As such, DSA will now begin a formal process of consulting with team members. We will do everything we can to minimize the impact of these proposals and work closely with local authorities and agencies to support our employees through what we know will be an extremely difficult period. DSA has remained in contact with union representatives on-site throughout and we are committed to ensuring they are updated through every step of this next phase.”
Steven Underwood, chief executive of Peel Group said, “We recognize that we are living in uncertain times, and we understand that our announcement will be difficult to hear for the Doncaster and wider South Yorkshire communities in which we have worked and invested for over two decades. However, as has been seen many times before in industries undergoing structural change, although change brings uncertainty it can also bring significant opportunity. As the strategic review concludes, we look forward to collaborating with our partners to create a vibrant, long-term vision for GatewayEast and the airport site. We will not accept any public sector grant to cover the costs of an airport that is not viable due to its lack of adequate forward revenues and high operating costs. Accepting funds from SYMCA may postpone the inevitable for another 13 months, but it will divert funds away from services on which communities throughout South Yorkshire rely.”
“Instead, we intend to continue working closely with local and national stakeholders to develop a forward-thinking strategy for the airport site, in conjunction with the £1.7bn [US$1.8bn] GatewayEast development next door, to help unlock vibrant, job-creating alternatives to ensure future growth and prosperity. We have the potential to attract cutting-edge, future-tech businesses to South Yorkshire, but only if we are able to collaborate with our local stakeholders and community in South Yorkshire.”
A Manchester Airports Group (MAG) spokesperson said, “Following the sad news of the planned closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA), MAG will offer all affected staff a guaranteed interview for vacancies across its three airports – East Midlands, London Stansted and Manchester. London Stansted Airport will host a jobs fair on Tuesday 4th October at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Stansted Airport. All affected staff from DSA are invited to attend, to learn more about available opportunities and the recruitment process. For anyone unable to attend the upcoming event, or for more information about available roles across the group, affected staff should visit MAG’s careers website, linked here.”