DURHAM Tees Valley Airport should turn its back on passenger flights in order to secure its immediate future, according to a group representing the interests of private aircraft owners.

The airport, which made a loss of more than £2m in the last full financial year, has seen passenger numbers plummet in recent years and was put up for sale last month by its majority shareholder, Peel Airports Limited.

John Elliott, a director of the Durham Tees Valley Airport Private Owners’ Group, who has flown privately from the airport for more than 20 years, said a rethink was now required to avoid the risk of total closure.

In an open letter, which has been sent to MPs and neighbouring local authorities, the group said it had witnessed the decline of the airport and was not surprised it was being put up for sale or “likely to close”.

It said: “Despite the call for investment in the airport, it is clear what it really needs is stabilisation, in order that it is preserved for a future time, a decade ahead or more, when a recovery of passenger traffic may return.

“Who is going to invest in a failing airport with two other large airports close by?”

The group said the airport should rid itself of the burden of the high cost of handling passenger traffic and operate for the time being as a general aircraft airfield, meeting the needs of airport-based businesses, as well as freight aircraft, the police and air ambulance, and flying clubs.

Mr Elliott said: “Attempts have been made to make it a successful passenger airport for many years and it is clearly not going to happen.

“What we are saying is at least retain it in a viable state for eventual development in the future when economic circumstances may change, which is better than losing it altogether as an airfield.

“We are concerned about the loss of the airport, and the choice may have to be between a slimmed-down operation as a general aircraft airfield or nothing at all.”

Responding to the letter, a spokesman for Peel said: “Future operations at the airport would be a matter for any prospective buyer.”

Meanwhile, in a separate development, a spokeswoman for international aviation company Cobham, which is based at the airport, confirmed it had been in talks with Peel about the airport’s future, although she would not comment when asked if it was possible the firm could leave the site.

Monica Hallman said: “Cobham is a significant operator from Durham Tees Valley Airport and has been in discussion with Peel about its future.

We look forward to discussing our operations there with the prospective new owners.”

Cobham, which provides civil and military flight inspection services, has a multimillion pound contract with the Ministry of Defence and employs about 50 people in the region.