Blackpool Airport is to be put back on the market in a shock move by owner Balfour Beatty.
A letter seen by the Gazette from Airport Manager Jay Gates has gone out to business partners to tell them that both the operating company Squires Gate Airport Operations Ltd and the airport estate itself will be offered for sale – and to reassure them that it will be business as usual in the meantime.
The move comes almost two years after Balfour Beatty announced the end of international holiday flights at Squires Gate and a temporary closure of the airport after an initial plan to put it up for sale came to nothing.
Today Balfour confirmed the plans to sell up, saying it was part of its continuous review of its investments portfolio.
A spokesman said: “We have begun very early discussions with a number of organisations regarding the potential sale of Balfour Beatty’s 95 per cent share in Blackpool Airport.
“Blackpool Council are aware of these early discussions.”
The council owns the other five per cent share.
The news has been greeted with a cautious welcome by campaigners who would like to see holiday flights return, and by the MP in whose constituency it lies – Fylde’s Mark Menzies.
He said that whoever eventually takes over should look to maintain and develop the aviation business on the site and not merely view it as a building development opportunity
Mr Menzies said: “It has always been my view that Blackpool Airport is an integral piece of the Fylde coast’s transport infrastructure and I was extremely disappointed when commercial holiday operators ceased flying from the resort in 2014.
“While it is now operating again on a limited basis it may be that it is time for a new owner with a clear business plan which will make proper use of this valuable asset.
“However, let me be clear, the site should only be bought by someone planning to operate and hopefully reinvigorate the airport.
“Anyone who may be thinking this is an opportunity for development should think again as they would face opposition on an unprecedented scale from people across the Fylde coast.
“When the airport was being considered for Enterprise Zone status I made it clear that I would only support a plan which retained the runway with a view to making the overall site profitable and able to again sustain airport functions.
“Throughout this period my focus has only been on reopening the airport and I hope to see it operating as a successful entity again in the near future.”
Rob Blower from the Save the Blackpool Airport group said the news of the sale was a surprise.
He said: “It’s a nice surprise however. Whoever buys it needs to be someone with an aviation background and not just someone looking to exploit the land.
“The private and general aviation has kept the airport’s head above water and we would like to see that safeguarded.
“The airport is a lot more attractive to potential buyers now than it was two years ago with all the debt hanging over it.” He said the enterprise zone made it even more attractive to investors – but added the dream would be to bring back international flights.
He added: “The energy college is coming along well where the terminal used to be and they did promise to build another.
“There is plenty of room behind to build a terminal but they would be starting from scratch so it would need someone with a bit of vision.”
At the time of the closure on October 16, 2014, Balfour, which bought it in 2008, said the holiday flights were causing losses of £1.5m a year and debts had hit £34m .
The airport had been profitable and, in 2007, handled in excess of 500,000 passengers before the global recession hit hard and numbers fell to 223,372 passengers in 2014.
General aviation flights restarted within months of the closure and Citywing returned the following April with commercial flights.
This year the airport was made part of a new enterprise zone which launched in April with the aim of creating 3,000 jobs and work began on a new energy centre on the site of the former international terminal, which will be part of Blackpool and The Fylde College.
In the sale letter to the businesses which currently operate on the site, Balfour states that the airport is currently operating profitably.
It has small-scale general aviation, private executive jets, the helicopter operation to the Morecambe Bay gas rigs by Babcock Offshore and commercial flights from Citywing to the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland.
It also mentions the development opportunities presented by land at the site which is not required for aviation operations.
It states: “As you will be aware the airport is now within the new enterprise zone established to encourage and stimulate development and job creation including aeronautical related development.
“Balfour Beatty is seeking a new owner who can take advantage of the significant opportunities that now exist, deliver strategic growth and develop the airport further.”
It added that Jones Lang Lasalle had been appointed to market the airport and said the process was unlikely to be completed before the end of the first quarter of 2017.
“The sale process will have little effect on the day to day operations and business will continue as usual.”