The runway remained illuminated at Blackpool airport last night but, like any last minute glimmers of hope, the lights had effectively been extinguished on a century of resort aviation history.
The last commercial flight took off at 5pm sharp from the main runway, and headed for the Isle of Man.
But as the CityWing aircraft disappeared into the gloom of a cloudy autumn evening, there was little fanfare to mark the end of an era for Blackpool.
Long after the smell of aviation fuel from the departing flight had gone, staff lingered long enough to swap a hug or handshake with people they had known as colleagues and friends, for decades in some cases.
With only a last pay packet to look forward to, their next move was to attend a noon insolvency meeting today at the Imperial Hotel to sort out the terms of their redundancy –scant thanks for years of loyal service.
Dave Kennedy, spokesman for the Unite Union - which represents many of the 118 staff who lost their jobs, summed up the feeling among his members.
“They are tired and resigned to their situation in many cases,” he said.
“The atmosphere at the airport over the last fortnight has been extremely gloomy.
“It’s no fun when you are clinging on the hope that your job may be saved at the last minute, but know, deep down, that it won’t
“There are people at the airport who have worked there for decades.
“They have had to put up with every upheaval and re-structuring that has come their way, but they have continued working in a professional manner.
“After all that, this is their thanks – being told their services are no longer required because the owners were not prepared to make the efforts required to keep the airport as a going concern.”
The mood of despondency and helplessness was best illustrated by commercial aviator Paul Wane.
Mr Wane runs the Helicopter Academy at the airport and has worked at the airport most of his life, the second generation of his family to do so.
Reluctantly he was preparing to move his operation to the Tarn Farm airstrip, also known as Rossall Field at Pilling, ending a 46-year-link with Blackpool airport.
He said: “I have been connected with Blackpool airport since I was a child, since 1968 and it is a very sad day. I was thinking about the history of the site this morning and it would be very sad if it never opens up again.
“My mum worked in the aircraft assembly sheds making Wellington bombers there during the war. There were all the celebrities and royalty who have flown in to the airport over the years, there was Amy Johnson who flew from there. She would be turning in her grave now seeing all this.
In the short term all flight activity is set to stop until Saturday when a skeleton service will resume to allow some of the tenants and general aviation users to operate. Commercial flights will cease for the foreseeable future until a buyer can be found for the airport.
Despite widespread belief from staff that it is a case of “too little, too late”, Blackpool MPs Gordon Marsden and Paul Maynard plus Fylde MP Mark Menzies were lobbying ministers to rally support to save the airport’s future.
Owners Balfour Beatty say negotiations are still ongoing with potential buyers and that they are working with the MPs, Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, Blackpool Council, Fylde Council and Lancashire County Council on a plan to revitalise the site and secure its future.
Mr Menzies, yesterday, met Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to plead Blackpool Airport’s case and discuss if there was any way the Government could help in the crisis.
He said: “I held an urgent meeting with the Chancellor where I told him of my severe disappointment the airport was closing and said I felt it had needed more time to find a suitable buyer.
“During the meeting Chancellor made it clear he is a big supporter of regional airports like Blackpool and said he would work with me in an effort to find a solution which would help keep aviation on that site.
“I have made it clear any proposal which did not include preserving an operational runway on the site I would find completely unacceptable.
“While the airport may have closed for now, I remain determined to keep this airfield working as it is a proud part of the Fylde’s aviation history and I feel has the ability to be a successful commercial airport with the correct support.”
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “I don’t believe Fylde and Blackpool Council as planning authorities should countenance any planning applications for retail or other building development on the airport site unless it’s part of a bigger scheme which involves retaining and developing the aviation presence.
“It might be helpful if ministers would indicate they would prefer to see aviation retained on the site if they possibly can.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said Humberside Airport, ranked 33rd in the country as compared to Blackpool’s 29th place, which was sold by the Manchester Airport Group to Eastern Group for £2.3m is proving to be a success.
He said the Humberside operation was targeting out of the way flight destinations such as the Balkans rather than the standard fare offered by the likes of Jet2 as well as concentrating on helicopter operations – a trajectory which Blackpool could follow if the airport facilities could be retained.
As the top level talks took place the general aviation firms operating from the hangars near the main terminal building were finding out if they could continue operations over the coming weeks.
Mr Wane added: “If you look at Barton airfield (near the Trafford Centre, Manchester) that operates perfectly well as a general aviation airfield and is extremely busy.
“It has a really popular cafe and you get people going just to watch the aircraft taking off. Oxford is similar with a great cafe on the ground floor of its air traffic control tower.
“Blackpool could follow that model, leave it to be run by a consortium of the clubs and current operators and allow microlights to come in.
“Once word got round Europe it would pull in people because of its great location away from main air traffic centres which would make it easier for them to use.”
Another general aviation operator, who did not want to be named, said: “It’s a disaster.
“Giving two days notice to come in or leave is a mess.
“It would mean about eight slots per day for everyone to apply for.
“With all the flying clubs, private owners and the helicopters it is going to be impossible. At least it is winter so there are not as many flights, but people still want to have flying lessons.
“We are just hoping that something can be sorted out for the long term.”
‘It’s another nail in the Blackpool coffin’
Former Blackpool resident Lorraine Acheson was among the passengers who caught the historic last commercial flight out of the resort.
The 37-year-old, who now lives in Belfast, said: “I hadn’t realised it was the last one until I arrived.
“There was a very subdued mood – it’s a very sad time for Blackpool Airport.
“I’ve have used the airport a few times recently. If I need a quick flight, it’s very hand for me personally. What strikes me when I come back is hotels are closing and businesses are closing.
“As much as the new Promenade looks beautiful, things are closing and wonder will there be a knock-on effect in the area now?
“It’s like another nail in the coffin for Blackpool. Especially with so many staff losing their jobs, it’s a very sad time.”
Derek Bamber, 67, of Bolton, was at the airport yesterday evening to pick up a passenger arriving from the Isle of Man.
He said: “It will be sad to lose it.
“It’s going to cause a lot of people some bother.
“It’s certainly important for the Isle of Man.”