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Coventry Airport growth plan fuels Midland aviation debate

Coventry Airport growth plan fuels Midland aviation debate

🕔05.Jul 2013

covThe debate about the future of aviation has naturally focused in the West Midlands on Birmingham Airport’s plan to become a viable alternative to Heathrow and the other London terminals by building a second runway and tripling the number of passengers it handles.

But while Birmingham is honing its expansion proposals for the Davies Commission on increasing airport capacity, a neighbouring minnow operating very much under the radar has quietly signalled its own rather smaller, yet significant, growth plan.

Coventry Airport moved a big step closer to re-starting passenger flights for the first time since 2008 after its owner, Birmingham businessman Sir Peter Rigby, signed a deal to buy a 60 per cent stake in Exeter International Airport from Balfour Beatty.

Sir Peter’s company Patriot Aerospace now owns a controlling interest in Exeter and Coventry airports as well as British International Helicopters, and the clear intention is to share the Exeter and Coventry facilities.

Sir Peter, who also chairs the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said he aimed to boost the local economy by becoming a “leading group in the regional airports sector”.

He has owned Coventry Airport since 2010 and has always made it clear that he intends to resume passenger flights when the time is right. It will be possible now to “leverage synergies” between Exeter and Coventry, a spokesman for Patriot Aerospace explained.

Budget airline Flybe is based at Exeter. The West Country airport also operates Thomson, Thomas Cook and Skybus flights and handles 750,000 passengers a year.

Coventry’s experience in the early 2000s with passenger flights under Thomsonfly caused some controversy locally. The airport fought a bitter battle with Warwick Council planners over proposals to build a new passenger terminal which was eventually resolved with a compromise, but worsening economic conditions saw package deal holiday flights cease permanently five years ago.

Birmingham Airport’s official stance has always been one of friendly rivalry and that it does not regard Coventry as a competitor, although that position would surely change if the smaller airport ever became a significant player in the holiday flights market.

Sir Peter told the Coventry Telegraph: “We believe in the importance of regional airports and of their value to the local and regional communities and of their important contribution and place in the local economies.

“We are intent on developing our aviation business within the Rigby Group and we have made a significant acquisition here and recently with the acquisition of British International Helicopters.

“We now intend to consolidate both of these opportunities with a view to being a leading group in the sectors of regional airports and helicopter operations. Approximately 450 jobs are now sustained by our aerospace activities.”

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