NEW European flights could soon be arriving at an airport as officials “crunch numbers” on an expansion plan aimed at lifting passenger numbers to the seven million mark, The Northern Echo can reveal.

David Laws says talks are ongoing with operators to strengthen Leeds Bradford Airport’s roster, which could see fresh services to hubs such as Copenhagen and Frankfurt and greater connections to cities including Paris.

And the Echo can also confirm re-development of the site is well underway, with a new beer house expected to be complemented by modern lounges, a cabin bar and coffee shop, extended car parking and a “massive change” to the terminal building in the coming weeks.

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Chief executive Mr Laws says the work forms a crucial part of a masterplan to bolster services and strengthen the airport’s reputation among leisure and business travellers, with the ultimate aim of propelling annual passenger numbers from their current record four million mark to seven million.

However, he has called for Government officials to provide much-needed clarity over Brexit, saying carriers, while keen to discuss potential new agreements, are “wary” of the impact that Britain’s EU divorce could have on the aviation sector.

The former Newcastle Airport boss, who previously told the Echo he was looking at the possibility of introducing new long-haul routes at Leeds Bradford, said he wants the site to further tap into strong European hubs, such as Copenhagen and Frankfurt, after last year securing a deal with Thomas Cook to serve traditional sunshine holiday routes to Turkey, Tunisia, Cyprus and the Balearic Islands.

He said: “I’m pleased with what we’ve done; we’re delighted we’ve got Thomas Cook back and we’re also doing some great things with Jet2”, said Mr Laws, who has now been in post at the Yorkshire airport for nearly nine months.

“Our Flybe services to Dusseldorf are doing well too, and we’ve welcomed SuperBreak in the last few weeks.

“We are talking to carriers and we hope we can add new leisure and business routes, but you cannot just go to an airline, create a route and expect it to happen in six months.

“I see point-to-point in Europe as something we can focus on, we need to look at places such as Germany, for example, with Frankfurt being the obvious one.

“Jet2 already do a good job with Paris flights, but is there a new business product there?

“We have to have a look at Copenhagen too, it’s a good hub, and we are a bit short in Italy as well”, added Mr Laws, who was at the helm when Newcastle secured Emirates’ long-haul Dubai flights.

“People are also keen to see the route coming back to Islamabad, in Pakistan, and we will look at the Middle East and see what needs to be addressed there.

“It is about us crunching numbers and creating a business plan.

“It’s what every airport does and it is how Newcastle got Emirates.

“It isn’t simply a case of putting a finger in the air; the proof is in the pudding.”

Part of Mr Laws’ blueprint includes an ambition to see the opening of a railway station close to the airport, which he says would dramatically improve connections for passengers.

However, he said progress will be dependant, to a certain extent, on carriers’ confidence over Brexit trade agreements, saying he doesn’t want to see work done to abate the collapse of airline Monarch be in vain.

In the days after Monarch’s failure last year, the airport revealed its new Thomas Cook services and thrashed out further agreements with Ryanair, Tui and Jet2, the latter of which provided extra seats for winter holidays to Tenerife.

“People want to see a thriving airport, and to get where we are in eight months has been very encouraging”, said Mr Laws, who revealed the site has also now taken on its first apprentices.

“But we have had some knocks and Monarch was a big blow.

“However, we have managed to make sure about 80 to 85 per cent of its flights have been covered and we see real growth potential on the back of the record passenger year.

“Once we get the infrastructure right, we should be looking for a big upsurge in passengers for 2019.

“The value of the aviation industry for the UK and EU is phenomenal, and it is in everyone’s best interests to see it do well.

“We would really like the Government to provide some clarity over what’s going to happen with Brexit.

“It is something we have our eyes on because until the airlines know for sure about certain things they are a little wary.”