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Teesside International Airport is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, as it looks to make 2021 a transformative year full of opportunity despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The airport was born in January 1941, when the airfield for the World War Two bomber base, then named RAF Middleton St George, was opened. In April of that year, it would go on to welcome its first Whitley bombers of the RAF’s 78 Squadron. During the war, it was allocated as a base for the Royal Canadian Air Force, who remained there until 1945, flying Vickers Wellingtons, Halifaxes and Avro Lancasters.
It was during this time that Canadian Andrew Mynarski, one of the airmen stationed at the base, was awarded the Victoria Cross. His bravery in trying to rescue his trapped Lancaster bomber crewmate as their plane went down over France in 1944 has never been forgotten and a statue in his honour still stands proudly on the airport’s grounds.
Construction of a runway extension and airport passenger facilities started in 1957 and were completed in 1963, before the airport was brought into public ownership for the first time in 1964. The first civilian flight from the renamed Tees-side Airport, a Mercury Airlines service to Manchester, took off on 18 April of that year.
In 2002, the airport was bought by Peel who operated it for a number of years before it was brought back into public ownership once again by the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority.
Since then, the airport has gone from strength to strength. It has re-established its connection with London Heathrow after more than a decade; developed new routes to domestic and holiday destinations with partners such as Eastern Airways, Loganair, Balkan Holidays and JetsGo Holidays; signed a new long-term deal with KLM providing important worldwide connectivity; met a major milestone earlier than expected in attracting Ryanair as its low-cost carrier and, next year, the UK’s biggest holiday company, TUI, will be offering flights to Palma, Majorca.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “The airport has been an important part of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool for the past 80 years, much loved and well used by holidaymakers, business travellers, companies on-site and the RAF alike.
“In this time, the airport has been central to our economy and social lives; it has welcomed famous faces including members of royalty, senior politicians and celebrities, and it is linked with incredible acts of bravery and heroism. This is not just down to Andrew Mynarski but all the members of Bomber Command, who night after night, month after month flew deep into German-occupied territory not knowing if the mission they were on would be their last.
“When we brought the airport back into public ownership to save it from closure, we pledged to turn it around and make it a success once again and that is exactly what we are doing.
“Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we’re ahead of the game in our 10-Year Rescue Plan, having secured a low-cost carrier and welcomed many other airlines. We’re now pushing ahead with a transformational redevelopment of our terminal building to bring it up-to-date and make sure everyone who passes through our terminal has the best experience possible.
“But the airport is much more than just flights. As part of my plan for jobs we’re continuing to push ahead with the Southside development to create a business park, a plan that will deliver thousands of good-quality, well-paid jobs for local people.
“If we hadn’t bought our airport, 2021 would have been the year we commiserated the closure of our airport rather than celebrating 80 extraordinary years in operation.
“2021 is the year our airport takes off again and to mark this, we’ve created a new commemorative logo. I can’t think of any more fitting a celebration than securing the airport for the next 80 years – and more.”
To support the increased services and passenger numbers, the terminal building is currently undergoing a huge redevelopment to its check-in and security areas, bringing back into use previously mothballed areas of the airport. The work, set to be complete in April, will transform the passenger experience, with the creation of new bars, two renovated executive lounges, a coffee shop and the return of duty free.
Many of the airport staff have been working at Teesside for decades, with a number giving more than 30 years’ service. The longest-serving member of staff is Neil Appleton, who works in the airport’s Mechanical Transport department as a fitter. He joined the airport in April 1977, so will be celebrating 44 years’ service this year.
He said: “In the almost half-decade I’ve been here, I’ve seen it all – the airport’s brilliant times and the airport’s difficult times. But it’s always been a pleasure to work here and feel like you’re doing something important – I wouldn’t have stuck at it for so long if it wasn’t!
“There’s a real sense of optimism and positivity with all the staff when we see all the work that’s being carried out, even though the coronavirus has been an awful blow for everyone. How far it’s come and the routes we’re now attracting are brilliant and show it has a bright future.
“I’m really proud to have done my bit throughout the years and look forward to using it for leisure rather than work and taking advantage of the new flights when I do eventually retire!”