THE WORLD'S largest charter airline last night blamed Durham Tees Valley Airport for its shock decision to axe all flights to popular summer holiday destinations.

The 2014 holiday schedules due to be operated by Thomson and First Choice have been scrapped.

The surprise move means customers who have already booked seats will have to fly from a different airport.

Thomson operated charter flights to Alicante and Tenerife last winter and Palma Mallorca during the summer. In May, it announced plans for a new service to Ibiza in 2014.

But last night the company said it had been told it would no longer be able to operate holiday flights next year.

In a statement, Thomson said: "Following a business review of operations by Durham Tees Valley Airport, Thomson and First Choice have been notified that they will no longer be able to operate their flights from the airport.

"We have therefore suspended flights from Durham Tees Valley Airport for summer 2014.

"We would like to reassure those customers who have already booked holidays departing from Durham Tees Valley that they will be offered an alternative choice of airport.

"Our customers are our number one priority and we apologise for any inconvenience caused by a change that is beyond our control."

Durham Tees Valley Airport (DTVA) has seen its passenger numbers fall from almost one million in 2006 to just 160,000 annually.

Last night, an airport spokesman confirmed the losses and said an announcement on the "future business direction" of the airport would be made soon.

But the move appeared to confirm fears that the airport's owners are set to turn their backs on the package holiday market.

Earlier this month The Northern Echo revealed that a turnaround plan drawn up by management will concentrate on attracting aviation businesses at the expense of charter flights.

Callers trying to book Thomson holiday flights from Durham Tees Valley are being advised to try Robin Hood Airport, near Doncaster, instead.

An airport spokesman said: "We can confirm that there will be no flights to Palma and Ibiza operated by Thomson Holidays from Durham Tees Valley Airport for the summer 2014 season.

"For alternative flights to these destinations customers are asked to consult the Thomson website.

"Further information on the future business direction of the airport will be announced shortly."

A visit to Thomson's website shows Alicante, Ibiza, Palma Mallorca and Tenerife South offered as destinations from DTV, but customers attempting to book are redirected to Robin Hood Airport's timetable which has a full roster of holiday flights for 2014.

A call to the customer advice line querying this was met with a response that Thomson had "pulled out of Durham Tees Valley because it is not a popular airport".

Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon, who sits on the airport's board representing the interests of six local councils with a minority shareholding in DTVA, said the future of the Thomson flights was always going to be a case of "use them or lose them".

He added: "I think it is sad, but to be fair to Thomson they have seen passenger numbers decline quite markedly. They had to offer significant discounts to get people to fly from there.

"It is a pity that not enough people have used the flights from the airport and it is a shame that the tourism operators don't see it as a viable market - but that could change in the future."

Mr Dixon added that business destinations such as the international hub at Schiphol in Holland were the airport's true economic lifeline and the airport should focus on securing their future.

The DTV rescue plan, drawn up by majority shareholders Peel Holdings, will go out for consultation next month.