A ONCE thriving airport that has seen passenger numbers plummet in recent years has applied to turn part of its long-stay car park into a storage area for caravans in a bid to generate income.

Durham Tees Valley Airport, near Darlington, welcomed almost a million passengers in 2006 but by last year that figure had dropped to less than 200,000.

The decline means that a large part of the airport’s long stay car park has become surplus to requirements, with a large section cordoned off and left unused.

The airport’s owner, Peel Holdings, has now applied to Darlington Borough Council to change a 1.7 hectare section of the car park - more than 900 spaces - into a storage area for caravans, motorhomes and other vehicles for the next three years.

Andy Foulds, commercial director for Durham Tees Valley Airport, said the company had to maximize all business opportunities for the site in order to keep it sustainable.

Anna Simcock, a development officer working for Peel Holdings, noted in a report to planners that the car park is ‘under-utilised’ and “provides a substantial amount of car parking spaces than are currently required for the operation of the airport at present.”

She added: “This proposal responds to the current needs of the airport business, diversifying to create additional revenues in the challenging economic circumstances.

“A temporary permission is being sought to allow flexibility for when airport visitor numbers increase, enabling this area of the car park to be reinstated to its original use. It is difficult to predict when visitor numbers will increase.”

The caravan storage would be run by an outside company and would have space for up to 350 vehicles, in an area that is already protected by fencing and airport security.

In a statement, Mr Foulds said: “Maximising business opportunities for the whole site is important to sustain the airport.

“In this instance we were approached by an organisation which offers storage facilities for vehicles, including mobile homes, seeking temporary use of a section of our car parking area which is some distance from the terminal and is actually cordoned off at present.

“If the application is approved it will enable us generate income from an asset which is currently under-used.”