By Peter Tremayne
The boss of Newquay Airport has resigned. Pete Downes announced his departure on social media. He had been in the job for only 18 months.
Mr Downes has given no reason for his resignation but described his time at the Cornwall Council-owned airport as “a roller-coaster ride that’s given me the biggest highs and lows of my working life.”
Mr Downes’s departure comes at a tricky time for Newquay Airport as it struggles to get its business plan back on track.
The aviation sector is not only continuing to feel the impact of the Covid crisis, some European countries are now considering a ban on short-haul internal flights because of the environmental damage they cause. Although there has not yet been any suggestion that the UK might ban internal flights, in pursuit of carbon-neutral travel, such a policy would spell the end for Newquay Airport.
Mr Downes joined the airport just as the Covid pandemic grounded most UK regional airports and almost immediately he found himself at the centre of a restructuring exercise to shed 36 jobs.
A few weeks ago Cornwall Reports revealed that Newquay Airport had made an operating loss of £3.4 million last year, with revenues plunging 69.2%. The operating loss would have been £4.1 million had it not been for Covid-specific central government support.
“We’ve had to make tough decisions in the face of huge uncertainty, and I’ve learned how it feels when the buck really does stop with you,” said Mr Downes.
Mr Downes gave no hint of his plans to quit when he last appeared in front of Cornwall Council’s airport forum, four weeks ago, promising that subsidised flights to London would resume “by the end of October.”
No such taxpayer subsidy has been announced, with Cornwall Council now suggesting that London flights might resume in November. The airport forum’s next scheduled meeting is on 16th December, providing councillors with an opportunity to ask questions.
The council's cabinet could also face some tricky questions on 10th November. At the last council meeting, the transport portfolio holder, councillor Phil Desmonde, had to admit that he did not know what was going on with the Public Service Obligation subsidy.
“This fantastic airport has a bright future ahead of it,” said Mr Downes, “provided those that have a responsibility to back it and invest in protecting the value it brings to Cornwall continue to step up and do so.
“As for me, I’ll be taking some time off before considering what the next challenge will be.”
Newquay Airport after the G7 Summit: very few aeroplanes and no boss, as Pete Downes bows out