THE turmoil affecting the airline industry was thrown into sharp focus last night with passenger numbers at the region’s two main airports showing a steep fall during the summer.

Figures obtained by The Northern Echo show that between June and August – regarded as the busiest time of the year – Durham Tees Valley Airport (DTVA) carried 221,243 passengers, an average drop over the three months of 19 per cent on last year’s figure of 274,315.

Newcastle International Airport was used by 1,677,281 passengers over the threemonth period – down ten per cent on last year’s figure of 1,864,278.

DTVA owner Peel Airports said a move by holiday company Thomson to cut weekly flights from DTVA from 13 to six – a decision taken early last year – was largely behind the fall in passenger numbers.

But it admitted the general economic uncertainty over the aviation industry was continuing to make life tough.

As well as Thomson cutting back – it is also to axe its Alicante route from April next year – DTVA has seen the likes of Hungarian carrier Wizz Air pull its service to Warsaw, Poland.

The Echo has also learnt Ryanair, which previously operated three flights a week to Barcelona Girona from DTVA year round, will shelve flights between November 1 and Easter next year, when they will resume.

In an another development, bmi, which operates three daily flights from DTVA to London Heathrow, confirmed it was reducing capacity by using smaller aircraft because of a drop in demand.

Robin Tudor, head of public relations at Peel Airports, said: “DTVA is not unique and it is the same story at other UK airports because of the current economic climate.

“We are doing a lot of work to maintain the business and hope to expand it further.

Medium to long term, we are still very optimistic about the future.”

Over the summer, Scottishbased budget operator flyglobespan, which flies to Tenerife, Faro, Malaga, Alicante, Palma and Jersey, denied rumours it was considering pulling out of the airport.

Mr Tudor revealed that DTVA bosses were now very close to finalising an agreement with the airline for next year’s itinerary.

Meanwhile, Newcastle North MP Doug Henderson yesterday tabled two questions to Chancellor Alistair Darling on a proposed new aviation duty tax due from November next year – asking what consideration has been given to the potential impact on the regional airport business and the wider North-East economy.

A spokeswoman for Newcastle airport said the Government’s doubling of air passenger duty in February had already “significantly impacted” on demand for flights during the past 18 months.

“We are concerned that Government plans to introduce a new aviation duty tax will just make things worse at regional airports,” she said.