OPINION: Business Editor Mike Hughes gives a very personal view of the past, present and future of Teesside Airport and its importance to the region

Why on earth would you want your local authority to run an airport – and who’s going to want to fly from Teesside anyway?

They are obvious questions and easy criticisms - but I think they are part of a much wider picture, and if we ignore the big picture we are less of a region.

This wonderful place has grown up. It is different to how it was even a few years ago because good people have worked until they dropped to make it a success, from the steel workers who set such a high bar and now the innovators in energy, AI and the environment who are making the impossible happen and giving us the global recognition and investment we need and deserve.

A few people may have dreamed, but nobody was confident a decade ago that all this would be heading here – but we had to have a goal, something to aspire to that would once again set us apart. So how high would we aim, how outrageous and unreachable would that target be?

The Northern Echo: Join us at Ramside HallJoin us at Ramside Hall (Image: Newsquest)

So much more than the airport is happening here, but for me it is the epitome of a region driven by self belief and a refusal to become a stereotype. The people were battlers, but they needed to be the underdogs because that was what had built communities and industries and perhaps not enough people instinctively knew how to turn that spirit into positivity.

Almost hidden, there was no need for Tees Valley Airport when Newcastle was only an hour away, so it was left to rot, unloved and unwanted. But then we were ambitious to rise again after steel crashed to the ground at Redcar and Ben Houchen put aside the airport’s cartoon status, took off the tarpaulins, knocked through the walls and revealed what was underneath.

How many people even knew back then that it came with 800 acres, which could have defaulted to housing but is now perhaps the most pivotal aspect of the whole site.

The Northern Echo: Ben Houchen had a vision for the siteBen Houchen had a vision for the site (Image: Newsquest)

Opponents of the whole ridiculous notion struggled to believe there was good news to embrace and were rightly wary of the sums involved. They just didn’t seem to add up when there were so many other challenges hobbling Teesside.

But that’s where the true challenge came – keeping some of the passion and sense of duty that those priorities desperately need for something almost unreachable, but which could be so vital for the reputation and ambition of the region.

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It was to become a new and vital part of the regional economy as investors saw it as a confident step forward, freight carriers saw the freeport and cost advantages, developers homed in on 800 acres of forgotten assets….and yes, more passengers started to see it as an option as new airlines started to test it out.

There must be questions every step of the way, of course. This is time and money that could have numerous uses, so the case for pumping a large chunk of it into an airport has to be confidently made every day. But that’s not a barrier – it’s a driving force.

In this job, my world is focussed on the business aspects of our lives, like jobs and careers, skills and investment. That’s why I love this little airport and what it stands for. It has shown enormous, crazy, ambition that was so far-fetched at the beginning that it just made people angry rather than inquisitive or supportive.

The Northern Echo: Teesside International AirportTeesside International Airport (Image: Press release)

It refused to die, just like this region when the furnaces went cold, and pushed past every doubt and criticism to get to a point no one – probably apart from Ben Houchen and his team – thought was achievable.

Teesside International Airport is ambition, boldness, courage, aspiration and self-belief. It is only halfway through a ten-year recovery plan and I’m really looking forward to updating this article in 2028 – who knows where it will be by then.

  • Q: Why on earth would you want your local authority to run an airport?
  • A: Because it is perhaps the only body that has the vision – and resources – to take on such an open-ended project and the political stubbornness to keep such a unique asset alive and attract investors to make sure it stays that way.
  • Q: Who’s  going to want to fly from Teesside anyway?
  • A: It simply didn’t look as if it was going to happen, but now freight operators, aviation businesses, and passengers can see the advantages of a local airport. Add the commercial property sector to that list of ‘users’ and long-term success is forming.