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Shoreham airport has been grounded by inertia
Shoreham has the oldest working airport in Britain – a green space near the sea much loved by locals and aviation enthusiasts.
Magnificent men in their flying machines flew from there during the early days of powered flight before the First World War.
The handsome Art Deco terminal building is often used in period films to represent some other airport long since swallowed up by suburbia such as Croydon.
When Shoreham airport started, it was meant to be one of Britain’s leading aviation centres with good transport links by rail and road.
Those dreams have been dashed by inertia, which has seen many other airports in the region prosper, notably Gatwick, even though conditions were much less favourable for them. While Gatwick, a former horse racing track, galloped ahead, Shoreham slept.
Part of the problems was that for many years Shoreham was owned by three councils, Brighton, Hove and Worthing but not by the authority where it is based – Adur.
This often meant that any initiative designed to bring more planes into Shoreham was opposed by local councillors representing concerned neighbours.
Other councillors on the joint airport committee often had little knowledge of business and even less about aviation. They tended to look backwards rather than ahead.
So if a camel is a horse designed by a committee, you are unlikely with an airport committee to get anything more modern than a Sopwith Camel.
While airports all over the country profited from the post war boom in air travel, Shoreham did not. The airport made a thumping loss year after year.
Little effort was made to start services from Shoreham to northern Europe and the Channel Islands, which would undoubtedly have prospered given the right impetus.
Meanwhile 30 miles up the road, Jersey European Airways fared well at Gatwick, eventually moving many services into another regional airport at Southampton and became the successful carrier flybe.
While Gatwick became the first major airport to link rail and air travel, British Fail closed the station at Shoreham Airport through lack of custom.
Gatwick was placed on the motorway map with the M23 while Shoreham’s northern entrance was from a cul de sac near an ancient toll bridge long since closed to traffic.
The southern approach was and is from the A259 on a country lane which includes a bridge so low that it is impassable for large lorries or double decker buses.
It took Shoreham 70 years to build a hard runway instead of a grassy strip which could not be used in wet weather, ruling it out for most of the winter.
But by this time its length was restricted by roads and housing so that it could not take many, if any, jets.
Eventually the councils, by this time down to only two thanks to the amalgamation of Brighton and Hove, decided to let private enterprise have a go.
And private enterprise proved to be no better. One firm ran into financial difficulties while another promised much but was slow on delivery.
Now there are worries that cash may not be forthcoming to mend major defects in the terminal building, and even that the whole airport may not last much longer as a viable concern.
With announcements expected imminently, lovers of the little airport are preparing themselves for a fight to save it if necessary.
Shoreham is not just a place where private planes abound. It provides many jobs connected with aviation.
It is also a large open space in an area which has suffered more than most from unimaginative housing.
Already developers are circling round the airport, ready to come down and build hundreds more houses. The amount of money involved would be measured in millions, extremely tempting for cash-strapped councils.
Go to Shoreham on a sunny Sunday and all seems right with the aviation world as people potter about in planes and others get a good view of them from the popular terminal café.
But Shoreham may be paying the price for many years of doing too little too late in a highly competitive industry. It may not survive with its present level of business.
It is just possible that it could expand to become a smaller version of other regional airports in the south which have done well, such as those at Bournemouth and Southend.
Without a considerable injection of cash to create an airport that can be commercially successful, Shoreham could be grounded for good.
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