AN airline has refused to rule out more North-East flights after launching services it believes will arrest falling passenger numbers at an airport.

Loganair yesterday unveiled flights to Aberdeen and Norwich from Durham Tees Valley Airport.

The carrier says its Granite City itinerary will help reverse declining annual traveller figures on existing Eastern Airways-run Aberdeen flights, claiming they have nearly halved to 15,000 over the last 36 months.

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Eastern last night (Monday, August 7) refuted the figures, saying its last full-year passenger count was 21,000, and told The Northern Echo it remains committed to Durham Tees Valley.

However, Jonathan Hinkles, Loganair managing director, told the Echo its Scottish services will provide passengers with greater value for money and reliability, as well as onward access to Orkney, Shetland, Denmark and Norway.

The airline’s flights to both Aberdeen and Norwich are due to begin in October, with officials citing their importance in business travel, since both cities act as hubs for the oil and gas and renewable energy sectors.

The point was highlighted yesterday when the Government approved the 172-turbine East Anglia Three offshore wind farm.

However, the Echo also understands bosses see the Norwich route, which will restore a link to East Anglia after two decades, as a way for North-East companies to tap into Norfolk’s agri-science sector and a gateway to Cambridge’s reputed life science sector.

Mr Hinkles told the Echo: “This is an important step for us and the airport.

“What we have seen over the last few years is reduced numbers flying on the route to Aberdeen.

“The oil and gas downturn has been part of that, but so has a combination of price and reliability.

“Passenger numbers have fallen from around 33,000 to 15,000 over the last three years and we really think there is an opportunity to raise passenger volumes.

“We’re aware that a competitor already flies between Aberdeen and Durham Tees Valley, but we’re confident in this growing market through our compelling product and excellent customer service.

“The guys at the airport are energised and have a drive to see the airport develop.

“There are a number of opportunities (for more services) and we are talking to them about those; this is the start.”

Loganair’s arrival comes as airport owner Peel, which is investing in a departure lounge revamp, continues with a masterplan to strengthen the former RAF station following a sharp drop in passenger numbers after holiday charter services ended.

Bosses previously revealed a blueprint to complement existing Aberdeen and Amsterdam flights with a business park containing engineering, storage and distribution operations, and plans have also been approved for 350 homes on the airport’s northern border.

Referring to its Loganair deal, Steve Gill, Durham Tees Valley chief executive, said the announcement was a “real shot in the arm”.

He added: “We are delighted Logan air has shown such confidence.

“We hope this marks the start of a successful, and growing, partnership.”

According to an Eastern spokeswoman, the carrier’s highest annual passenger number was 35,000 over the last three years, with its last full year coming in at 21,000.

The spokeswoman said the number has been affected by the downturn in the oil and gas sector, which has seen numerous operators shed jobs to manage the lower price of oil.

An Eastern Airways spokesperson said: “Eastern Airways has consistently operated flights from Durham Tees Valley Airport to Aberdeen for 17 years with a complimentary on board service. 

"We will continue to provide high frequency services from the airport using a 29-seat Jetstream 41 aircraft and offer through connections to Stornoway, Wick John O’Groats, Orkney, Shetland, Bergen and Stavanger on our services and with partner airlines, Flybe and Wideroe. 

"From 29 October, Eastern Airways will enter into a new franchise agreement with Flybe, which will enhance connections, including those from Durham Tees Valley, give customers access to the Avios loyalty scheme and offer online check-in.”