The rise and rise of regional airports
It's getting increasingly easier to jet off to distant shores partly because of the availability of flights from airports close to home. The days of traipsing hundreds of miles to the nearest major airport appear to be all but gone - which is good news in itself, but then there are also other benefits to consider...
All about regional airports
First, take a look at how popular regional airports have become in recent years. Last year, a survey by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) indicated that a huge 95 million holidaymakers hopped on a flight at a regional airport - a nine per cent increase compared with the 87 million people who used a local hub two years previously. Growth at the bigger airports, such as Heathrow, saw a slower rate of growth - indicating that a number of travellers may be ditching the major hubs for somewhere closer to home.
Regional airports are located close to small and mid-sized cities and big towns. Bristol, Bournemouth, Durham Tees Valley, Exeter, Leeds-Bradford and Blackpool are just a few examples. Some of these, such as Blackpool, used to operate only to accommodate planes carrying industrial cargo. However, more and more small hubs are opening up their runways to passenger airlines, offering greater choice for travellers who are less than keen on joining the masses at the bigger London and Manchester-based airports.
So how exactly are regional airports different to the likes of Gatwick and Edinburgh? As you may have gathered, they are likely to be less busy than their larger counterparts as they are situated in areas with less dense populations. Of course, this will mean that you won't always find the sheer variety of shops and amenities located in the major hubs at regional airports - but if you're simply there just to fly, you won't find this to be much of a problem.
A few years ago, most people would probably have said that another major difference is the destinations served by local airports. While it is true that due to physical size it is impossible for regional airports to lay on the same number of flights as the city airports, regional hubs are increasingly expanding their operations - somewhere like Liverpool John Lennon would only have offered a handful of flights 15 years ago, but it has since grown to lay on services to somewhere in the region of 60 international destinations.
Where are people flying to?
The CAA survey indicated while short-haul destinations continue to be popular with passengers departing from regional airports, a rising number of Britons are opting to fly long-haul too. Top of the list for short-haul flights were Spanish destinations such as Alicante, Palma and Tenerife, while long-haul flyers favoured the likes of Orlando, New York and Dubai.
Nowadays, airlines operating at regional airports are making a bigger effort to serve a wider range of destinations. Scandinavian Airlines is to launch new services to Stockholm from Bristol Airport later this year, for example, with reports from last month indicating that passengers in Liverpool may soon be able to jet off to Germany, the Netherlands and Paris if plans for expansion get the go-ahead.
Of course, regional airports are also ideal for those looking to traverse the UK. Travellers can now step on flights between England and Scotland, Ireland and Wales, as well as within each of these respective countries. Earlier this year, it was announced that a new service between north and south Wales is soon to launch. The daily flights will link Anglesey and Cardiff and be run by Highland Airways, subject to approval.
So why should you opt for a regional airport over a major one? A number of reasons spring to mind - because smaller airports tend to be less busy, you are more likely to get through security checks and other procedures a lot more quickly, eliminating any long waits in snaking queues.
You're also likely to get a more friendly, personalised service from the staff as a result of them being less stressed - if you've ever seen the BBC's Airport programme, you'll know exactly how stressful it can get for airport workers. And if more people are opting for regional airports, queues at the bigger hubs may well go down, evening out the airport experience for all.
Also, think of the impact on your pocket if you can avoid booking a £100+ train ticket to London and instead opt for a £15 taxi journey to a hub in the next town. You'll also be able to forgo the hassle of dragging huge suitcases on and off public transport and zip straight to the airport with all of your personal belongings - and your sanity - intact.
What's in store for the future?
All the indicators point to a healthy future for regional airports. The government is very much behind the idea of letting local hubs expand as much as possible, creating new jobs and lots of extra flight options for locals and travellers in the process. The last five years have seen no less than 21 airports submit plans for further expansion, indicating that they are more than eager to follow the government's lead.
As regional airports have become more popular, they have increasingly attracted interest from big companies looking to cash in. Several local hubs are getting involved in big money deals, which will serve to attract more investment and improve facilities even further.
Of course, this can only be good news for air passengers, particularly those who travel frequently and want the best value and convenience possible for their money. It is likely that travellers will soon be able to fly to even more far-flung destinations from their doorstep as airlines seek to serve a wider cross-section of holidaymakers and as airports add more facilities and staff to cope with extra demand. And with this expansion of choice, ticket prices may well drop to attract more and more airport users.