We combined analysis from IBA’s aviation intelligence platform InsightIQ with other sources to examine the resurgence of air travel to Cornwall, one of the UK’s most popular staycation destinations.
Domestic air travel has led Global aviation recovery since the onset of Covid-19, with international travel restrictions driving more tourists to seek a holiday on home shores. With this in mind, we combined analysis from IBA’s aviation intelligence platform InsightIQ with other sources to examine the resurgence of air travel to Cornwall, one of the UK’s most popular staycation destinations.
The coastal city of Newquay is home to Cornwall – Newquay Airport, the main commercial airport in the far south west region of mainland Great Britain. Newquay airport has recently experienced a modest boom in traffic, with flights increasing in summer 2021 as Covid-19 related restrictions were eased. Whilst there is clearly an increased demand for domestic flights within the UK, the small regional airport is faced with the challenges of attracting new operators’ new operators to fill the gaps left by Flybe and Stobart Air (two of the airport’s most prolific operators) and the increased awareness on the CO2 implications of domestic air travel.
According to data from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Newquay Airport saw 361,000 domestic passengers in 2019. At the time, the now defunct Flybe and Stobart Air operated approximately 88.9% and 8.9% of domestic flights, respectively. Following the bankruptcy of Flybe and the pandemic restrictions in 2020, the number of domestic passengers at Newquay airport dropped by 86% to 51,500 passengers. It was recently announced that Stobart Air’s successor ‘Emerald Airlines’ had been granted its AOC and will likely begin operations in late 2021.
According to flight data from IBA’s InsightIQ, the 2019 domestic summer season at Newquay Airways peaked at 318 monthly flights in August 2019, a 33% increase YoY. In 2020, just 543 domestic flights were operated out of Newquay, compared to 1936 and 2692 flights in 2018 and 2019, respectively. As of August 2021, a total of 656 flights were operated from Newquay Airport. International air travel originating from Newquay airport in 2021 accounted for ~13% of total flights operated at the airport, with international flights remaining under pre-pandemic levels.
Newquay Airport was closed to passenger traffic at the height of the pandemic between March and July 2020. It closed again between November 2020 and April 2021 due to lack of demand driven by a national lockdown. Since the airport resumed passenger services in April 2021, the number of flights operated from Newquay has increased, as has the number of operators. As of September 2021, the top three passenger operators out of Newquay are Loganair, EasyJet and Eastern Airways. Combined, these three airlines have operated 533 flights so far in 2021 (compared to just 37 flights in 2019). This represents 81% of flights from Newquay to destinations such as London Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh.
British Airways commenced operations between Newquay and London Heathrow in September 2020 under a seven-month emergency Public Service Obligation (PSO) contract. Whilst this expired in March 2021, BA continues to offer this service seasonally throughout the summer of 2021, and recently commenced a new service to Belfast in July 2021.
Discussions surrounding a British Airways PSO contract offering year-round flights to Heathrow until 2025 were put on hold recently, with local government sources citing the busy 2021 summer season at Newquay Airport and therefore less urgent need to provide PSO services.
According to CO2 emissions data from InsightIQ’s Carbon Emissions Calculator, domestic air travel from Newquay airport produced a total of 2.9 million kilograms of CO2 emissions between January and August 2021. This represents a 57% decrease on the 6.8 million kilograms of CO2 produced in the same period in 2019. Whilst this dramatic reduction is largely driven by a 72% fewer operated flights to and from Newquay in that period, this decrease could have been higher. A result of the change in the operator landscape at Newquay has resulted in a shift towards larger aircraft operating these flights. Where once it would be common to see a DHC8 utilised on a particular route, it would now be more common to see an A321. With this comes an inevitable influence on CO2 emissions.
Comparisons between methods of domestic travel will always need to be viewed in the context of time and convenience for the passenger. Data from the Office of Rail and Road ORR states CO2 emissions from passenger train journeys across the UK continues to decrease YoY with 2019-20 emissions falling by a further 4.1% YoY. The average CO2 emissions from train journeys in the UK is 35g CO2 per passenger per kilometre, the lowest recorded since 2011-12. Whilst a car journey with two passengers from London to Newquay produces 50.5g CO2 per passenger per kilometre.
The introduction of environment initiatives by both local and UK government, such as UK’s Net-zero-emission aviation and Cornwall Carbon Neutral Challenge, have the further potential to impact air travel to Cornwall. The UK has recently announced interim decarbonisation targets of at least 15% by 2030 and 40% by 2040. These goals remain a major challenge to airlines due to limitations in technology and policies to overcome the challenge.
Whilst travelling by train produces less CO2 emissions, it has obstacles of its own to overcome in competing with air travel on routes to Cornwall. Issues of practicality, speed and pricing need to be addressed in order to attract more train travellers, and railway operators are struggling to compete with low-cost carriers. Pricing differential remains stark, with travel by air often costing almost 50% less than train travel between London and Newquay. The further impact of new environmental restrictions on Newquay Airport remains to be seen as the airport continues its journey of recovery following Flybe’s bankruptcy and the return to pre-pandemic levels.
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