At 20h00 this evening, Sheffield reclaimed a title it’s not held since 1997 – the city (population 525,800) is now the largest in Europe without its own airport.
Sheffield City Airport has closed tonight, barely eleven years after it opened. The airport lost commercial service in 2002, supposedly because of post-9/11 travel fears, but more reasonably because low cost airlines never established service. The runway was built frustratingly short – too short for a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, the two aircraft that now dominate low cost airline service in Europe.
When I arrived in Sheffield in 2001/2, the City Airport had (if my facts are straight) multiple daily flights to Amsterdam, Belfast, Brussels, Dublin, London City and Jersey. British Airways, AirUK, Sabena and numerous smaller charter operators all used the airport, which still features the beautifully simple little terminal building designed for it by Sheffield City Council’s architecture department. It was, by all accounts, a delightful little airport to fly in and out of, barely 10km from the city centre.
I’ve heard many grumbles from other Sheffielders about the airport’s demise (see this thread on the lively Sheffield Forum), namely that Peel Airports who own the site entered into an agreement with the City Council that basically allowed them to buy the airport land for a single figure sum if they could prove that the airport had no commercial future. Their attempts to draw new airlines and services to the airport were notably languid. Understandable really, since they were far too busy investing in and developing the all new Robin Hood Airport about thirty kilometers away in Finningley. Many blamed the short runway for limiting commercial service, although many airlines (Eastern Airways, FlyBe etc) are doing very well operating regional links in planes that could use Sheffield City.
After commercial service ended in 2002, the airport continued as a private aviation airfield, with pleasure flights and private aircraft using the landing strip. The South Yorkshire Ambulance and Police have helicopters stationed there, and they’ll continue to use a limited heliport facility. The runway and the rest of the site will be torn up to form a business park.