UP to a thousand new jobs could be created amid major plans to lengthen Southampton Airport’s runway by 450ft.
The £5m upgrade would enable passengers to travel even further afield to destinations such as Greece, southern Italy, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
If the vision got the go-ahead and funding secured the “starter strip” at the northern end of the 1,700m runway could be in place in just five years time.
Passenger numbers are expected to climb from 1.7 million to 2.5 million a year over the next decade and airport bosses say their workforce will need to go up from a thousand to 2,000 to help cater for the demand.
Although there would be no increase in the size of aircraft using the historic airfield the new 150 metre addition to the runway would enable planes to take off carrying a heavier load of fuel, meaning longer flights.
The move has already split opinion, with one residents’ group fearing extra services will have an impact on those living under the flight path. Business leaders have hailed it as a “very positive move forward”.
Airport managing director David Lees said the proposals could mean opening up routes to nations as far afield as Romania and Poland – especially in light of the large Eastern European population in and around Southampton and Portsmouth.
But Mary Finch, from Bitterne Park Residents’ Association, said she had only been told that the starter strip was to make taking off and landing safer at the terminal and questioned whether extending the runway was permitted.
She said the impact on residents would “not be good”, adding: “Obviously this would mean there would be more aircraft. It has been very good and the number of complaints has come right down. But, as I said, I was told the starter strip was to make it all safer.”
Mr Lees said it would also mean direct flights to southern Italy – currently it is only possible to fly direct to Verona in the north of the country.
Passengers would also be able to take a four-hour flight to Greece if the runway is lengthened, while it would also open the door to flights to Scandinavia.
It comes as the airport unveiled a five per cent increase in passenger numbers in February, when more than 105,805 passengers passed through the terminal in just 28 days. Massive growth is expected in coming years, with Southampton’s cruise industry blossoming and with the airport’s fast rail links to London.
Mr Lees said: “We are talking about a starter strip adding up to 150 metres to the existing runway, which is currently just over 1,700 metres, so it would be under ten per cent longer. We would like to see this in the next ten years and before a major new runway is built elsewhere in the south east. I would anticipate this could be within five to ten years.
“We are currently operating at 1.7 million passengers a year and we are having a successful year. Over the course of the next ten years that should grow to at least 2.5 million passengers.
“At the moment the airport contributes £100 million to the local economy – this plan should, over a period of time, take that figure towards £150 million.
“This is really something to look forward to. We have gained a great reputation as a leader in service and have just had our largest ski season. There is some really positive news emerging and it all helps the future prosperity of the region.”
Mr Lees said the investment would not mean extra costs for passengers and that there would be no change to restrictions on what times of the day aircraft are allowed to take off and land at the airport.
But any proposal would depend on the market maintaining its strength, funding being in place and Eastleigh Borough Council giving planning consent.
The proposals came to light as Mr Lees was answering questions at an Airport Consultative Committee on what impact the current Independent Airports Commission may have on Southampton Airport.
The review, led by Sir Howard Davies, is exploring the future need to cater for increased airport capacity in the south east.
Council leader Keith House said any proposal for an extension would need to be considered “carefully”.
“This could be fantastic news for business and for all travellers wishing to avoid a trek to London for flights to southern Europe and Scandinavia and potentially further afield,” he said.
“We will have to consider planning issues carefully but our airport has a good record on reducing noise and with the local community.”
Hampshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Dunn said that while there were concerns for people living under flight paths huge strides had been made in noise and pollution reduction in recent years.
“We have always said the airport will play a vital role in the future development of the economy here,” he said. “This will bring extra jobs, which is a boost to the economy, and will bring extra routes and destinations, which will help businesses and tourism.
“Obviously it won’t be one thousand jobs all at once but it will be welcomed to replace some of the jobs lost at Ford in Southampton and BAE in Portsmouth, which also affected this city. This is a very positive move forward for the area.”