Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s future under threat

The future of Doncaster Sheffield Airport is under threat after its board revealed they believe “aviation activity on the site may no longer be commercially viable”.

The airport’s owner, Peel Group, has commissioned external independent advice which has agreed with that assessment.

DSA and the Peel Group will now start a consultation programme on the future of the site and “how best to maximise and capitalise on future economic growth opportunities for Doncaster and the wider Sheffield City Region”.

It is just four years since the airport set out a 20-year masterplan that forecast airport passenger numbers would increase to 4.7m per year. With the airport handling a record 1.4m passengers and 17,600 tonnes of cargo in the last pre-pandemic year, 2019, but it has faced severe turbulence lately.

Budget airline Wizz Air announced last month that it was cancelling “a large number” of its flights because it was unable to guarantee the terms of its commercial agreement. The decision left the airport with only one base carrier, TUI.

Senior figures at the airport have also left recently, including its managing director Chris Harcombe who stepped down despite only being appointed in early 2021.

Robert Hough, chairman of Peel Airports Group, said: “It is a critical time for aviation globally. Despite pandemic related travel restrictions slowly drawing to a close, we are still facing ongoing obstacles and dynamic long-term threats to the future of the aviation industry. The actions by Wizz to sacrifice its base at Doncaster to shore up its business opportunities at other bases in the South of England are a significant blow for the Airport.

“Now is the right time to review how DSA can best create future growth opportunities for Doncaster and for South Yorkshire. The Peel Group remains committed to delivering economic growth, job opportunities and prosperity for Doncaster and the wider region.”

Peel Group acquired the airport site in 1999 and converted it into an international commercial airport, which opened in 2005. In the statement it noted that since then the group has invested “significant amounts” in the terminal, the airfield and its operations, both in the initial conversion and in subsequent upgrades to facilities.

Peel Group is also developing the GatewayEast site next to the airport, with Panattoni, the largest industrial real estate developer in Europe, submitting plans for a 417,570 sq ft facility in March.

The £1.7bn plans for the wider GatewayEast development could create up to 35,000 jobs and see 3,000 homes built over the next 15 years. The designs are for 11m sq ft of residential and commercial space with a focus on advanced manufacturing, innovation and logistics.

The site has also been the focus for talk around a high-value innovation cluster with the airport’s owners Peel Group, Doncaster Sheffield Airport and the University of Sheffield previously announcing a partnership to “unlock the economic potential of the area”.