Blackpool is a resort town on England’s northwest coast, which, since the 1840s, has been a popular domestic holiday destination. However, as recently as the 2010s, it was also home to an active commercial airport, serving various locations in the British Isles and abroad. But what was the history of this facility, and why did it close?
The early years and World War II
Blackpool Airport (BLK) opened in 1909 when the UK’s first-ever official public flying meeting occurred in Squires Gate, on the outskirts of the town. The land was also used as a racecourse in its early years, and as a military hospital during the First World War. By the mid-1930s, UK-based regional airlines had begun using the airfield to operate commercially.
These included short hops to Liverpool, Manchester, and the Isle of Man, which Railway Air Services began operating in April 1935. However, the Air Ministry requisitioned the site in 1938 for military use, just before the Second World War began the following year.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) favored the airport, which became known as RAF Squires Gate – a training camp. This was because an abundance of accommodation was available there, and the site was situated close to army training camps in nearby Kirkham and Weeton.
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RAF Squires Gate also served as an aircraft factory between September 1940 and October 1945. During this time, the facility produced 2,584 Vickers Wellington bombers (around 22.5% of a total Wellington contingent of 11,462). It experienced a renaissance in the mid-1950s when Hawker looked to boost the production of its ‘Hunter’ jet fighters.
Commercial services from Blackpool Airport recommenced shortly after the Second World War came to an end. Indeed, by 1946, Isle of Man Air Services had returned to provide flights to the eponymous British crown dependency in the Irish Sea. Jersey European Airways, a predecessor of Flybe, also had a presence at the airport in the latter part of the 20th century.
However, passenger services at Blackpool Airport really took off, if you’ll pardon the pun, after the turn of the century. For example, 2005 saw Jet2 become the first major low-cost carrier to base an aircraft there, creating 50 jobs in the process. It served six leisure destinations in Spain and Portugal, as well as operating a commuter-focused route to Belfast.
Ryanair has a penchant for serving smaller British airports, and, unsurprisingly, the Irish budget airline also had a presence at Blackpool in the 2000s. Now-defunct Monarch Airlines also provided competition on some of the airport’s European leisure routes.
Blackpool Airport also housed a reasonably strong and diverse regional network. This saw carriers such as Aer Arann, British North West Airlines, Citywing, Flybe, and Jetstream Express serve destinations throughout the British Isles, including Aberdeen and Southampton.
Partial closure ends commercial services
Sadly, the airport announced in October 2014 that it would be closing, bringing an end to its commercial flights. According to the BBC, its owners made this decision after they were unable to find a buyer, following years of loss making. It officially closed on October 15th that year, with airlines such as Jet2 re-routing Blackpool flights to Manchester.
The closure turned out only to be a partial one, with the airport soon re-opening to small aircraft and helicopters two months later. In fact, limited commercial service was able to resume the following April, albeit only to Belfast and the Isle of Man with Citywing.
These services came to an end just under two years later, when the airline ceased operations in March 2017. Blackpool has been without commercial services for the four years since this happened. For now, the town’s closest commercial airports are as follows.
- Leeds/Bradford – 70 miles / 113 km away.
- Liverpool – 64 miles / 103 km away.
- Manchester – 57 miles / 92 km away.