Peel Group to close Doncaster Sheffield Airport

Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA) is to close after owner Peel Group said “no tangible proposals have been received regarding the ownership of the airport or which address the fundamental lack of financial viability.”

The airport employs about 800 workers.

Peel Group said the high fixed costs associated with running a safe, regulated airport “together with recent events materially reducing prospective future aviation income streams, mean that a break-even business plan cannot be identified for the foreseeable future.”

As a result, Peel said DSA will begin winding down the provision of aviation services during the week commencing Monday, October 31, 2022.

“Since the July 2022 announcement of the Strategic Review, Peel has been actively engaging on a weekly basis with local and national political stakeholders, including proactively engaging with working group meetings, primarily led by officers at Doncaster Council, South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) and the Department for Transport (DfT),” said Peel.

“Throughout the consultation process up until today, Peel has also been in close contact with the airlines and other aviation users of the airport.

“None of these discussions has delivered any tangible results that have changed the board of DSA or Peel’s clear view that the airport is and will remain unviable. 

“Peel received a letter from the Mayor of South Yorkshire and Mayor of Doncaster on Thursday, 8 September, stating that they had completed an economic impact study of DSA which identified its economic benefit to the region but provided no solution to its lack of financial viability.

“Furthermore, they informed Peel that they had been approached by a group interested in purchasing or operating the airport.

“Peel has yet to receive a response to urgent requests for details on the consortium’s identity, nor have the terms of any proposal or evidence of the consortium’s financial standing or aviation expertise been provided. 

“On Friday, 23 September, Peel received a further letter from SYMCA and Doncaster Council, which was supported by the Mayor of South Yorkshire and the Mayor of Doncaster, along with the leaders of Barnsley and Rotherham, which included a proposal to provide public money to DSA to fund its operating losses until 31 October 2023.

“The grant was described as providing DSA with free cashflow to sustain losses that may occur over thirteen months while the Peel Group and South Yorkshire partners jointly explore the future potential of DSA and the GatewayEast site.

“In the absence of any actual proposals to address the lack of viability of DSA, even those at an early stage of development, or any identified potential acquirers or operators of DSA, Peel’s board has concluded that it cannot responsibly accept public money for this highly uncertain process against the backdrop of an unviable, loss-making operating business.

Robert Hough, chairman of Peel Airports Group, which includes Doncaster Sheffield Airport, said: “We recognise that this will come as a great disappointment to many.

“The intractable problem remains the fundamental and insufficient lack of current or prospective revenue streams, together with the airport’s high operating costs.

“Our employees have always been DSA’s greatest asset, and we are grateful to them all, past and present, for their dedication and diligence over the years. The immediate priority remains to continue engaging closely with them over the next few weeks. 

“As such, DSA will now begin a formal process of consulting with team members. We will do everything we can to minimise the impact of these proposals and work closely with local authorities and agencies to support our employees through what we know will be an extremely difficult period.

“DSA has remained in contact with union representatives on site throughout and we are committed to ensuring they are updated through every step of this next phase.” 

Peel Group CEO Steven Underwood said: “We recognise that we are living in uncertain times, and we understand that our announcement will be difficult to hear for the Doncaster and wider South Yorkshire communities in which we have worked and invested for over two decades.

“However, as has been seen many times before in industries undergoing structural change, although change brings uncertainty it can also bring significant opportunity. 

“As the Strategic Review concludes, we look forward to collaborating with our partners to create a vibrant, long-term vision for GatewayEast and the airport site.

“We will not accept any public sector grant to cover the costs of an airport that is not viable due to its lack of adequate forward revenues and high operating costs.

“Accepting funds from SYMCA may postpone the inevitable for another thirteen months, but it will divert funds away from services on which communities throughout South Yorkshire rely. 

“Instead, we intend to continue working closely with local and national stakeholders to develop a forward-thinking strategy for the airport site, in conjunction with the £1.7 billion GatewayEast development next door, to help unlock vibrant, job-creating alternatives to ensure future growth and prosperity.

“We have the potential to attract cutting-edge, future-tech businesses to South Yorkshire, but only if we are able to collaborate with our local stakeholders and community in South Yorkshire.” 

The GMB Union claimed the closure “is the result of narrow minded failings of fat cat business owners.”

“The airport’s owners, the Peel Group, today announced they would be winding down operations from the week commencing 31 October, said the GMB.

“But the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and Doncaster Council have offered to cover the airports operating losses for up the 13 months while a buyer is found.

“The Peel Group has turned the offer down, saying it cannot ‘responsibly accept public money’ – despite the massive economic benefits keeping the airport open has to the region.”

GMB Organiser Sarah Barnes said: “Doncaster Sheffield Airport is absolutely vital to the South Yorkshire economy, providing hundreds of direct and supply chain jobs as well as an international transport hub.

“It’s hard to think of a better use of public money than keeping it open until a buyer can be found.

“Peel Group’s decision to close, despite the offer of help, is a narrow minded failure by fat cat bosses to see the big picture.

“The airports closure will be a devastating blow to workers, their families and the wider community.”