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These are the UK’s ‘ghost airports’ – which could come back to life?

Simon Calder’s Travel

Some UK airports are highly successful, with Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted all bouncing back strongly after the Covid pandemic. The UK’s busiest airport, Heathrow, handled a record number of passengers in February: an average of 200,000 per day.

Yet some smaller British airports do not even register 200,000 travellers in a year. Many rely on public subsidies to survive, for social and economic reasons. Highlands and Islands Airports, which looks after 11 airports in Scotland, received £56m in subsidy in the latest financial year – a whacking £40 for every passenger who used its facilities.

Other airports are not so lucky. This century, six English airports have closed – most recently Doncaster Sheffield. Sixteen months after the final passengers departed, the South Yorkshire airport is the subject of a rescue bid.

So which airports are toast – and which could be revived? These are the key questions and answers.

The six airports that have closed to commercial flights this century

Sheffield City

Flights at the first South Yorkshire airport began in 1998 with domestic links to London City, Belfast City and Jersey, and international connections with Amsterdam, Brussels and Dublin. These routes were progressively cancelled, with the final flights to and from Belfast City in August 2002.

Could it reopen? No. The site is now part of Sheffield Business Park.


This is a weird one. Baginton aerodrome, southeast of Coventry, has been going since 1936. In 2004, the giant tour operator Tui decided to base a new budget airline, Thomsonfly in Coventry – and bought the airport. The thinking was that by operating from its own airport would be cheaper and easier than using Birmingham (13 miles west) or East Midlands (33 miles north). The facilities comprised a jumble of temporary buildings.

Thomsonfly, a belated and botched response to the success of easyJet and Ryanair, duly took off, and over the next four years there was quite a Mediterranean-focused network from Coventry. Even Wizz Air came in with flights to Gdansk and Katowice. But after the High Court turned down plans to build a permanent terminal, Thomsonfly went away. Permanently. Tui now has a flourishing presence at Birmingham airport, though it now faces competition from easyJet as well as Ryanair and Jet2.

Could it reopen? Coventry airport continues to function…

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