THE NORTH East cannot support two passenger airports, a senior MP has said.
North Durham MP Kevan Jones told a fringe meeting at the Labour conference Durham Tees Valley airport bosses should accept they could not compete with Newcastle and end passenger operations in favour of concentrating on cargo flights or aircraft maintenance.
“We need an answer to the thorny issue of our second airport at Tees Valley,” said Mr Jones.
“We need to be realistic about what can be achieved.
“Is there a real need for two passenger airports in the region? Possibly not.
“There was a proposal put forward nearly 20 years ago for merging the two airports, which I thought was a good one.
“We do need a strategy for Teesside airport – whether that is cargo or aircraft maintenance, because these things do create jobs.
“But just trying to compete with Newcastle is not an option. Those sorts of new ideas need to come froward.”
Mr Jones’ suggestion failed to find favour with his Manchester audience, however, who voted three-to-one in favour of retaining two passenger airports in the region.
His comments sparked an angry response from James Wharton, Tory MP for Stockton South.
“Those of us who care about the airport will be rightly furious that Kevan Jones feels it is acceptable to say this,” he said.
Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson disagreed with the proposal to end passenger services at Durham Tees Valley but said Mr Jones was right to point out the need to find new ways for the airport to attract business.
“My view is there should be two passenger airports,” he said.
“However, Kevan is correct to say we need to look at other ways of maximising the airport.”
Durham Tees Valley came close to going out of business last year, after passenger numbers plummeted.
But the Peel Group has reinvested in the business and a bid has been lodged with the regional growth fund for an expansion plan which would see 250 acres to the south of the airport developed to expand the freight service.
Durham Tees Valley chairman Robert Hough said there was overwhelming evidence of the need for an airport serving the southern end of the region.