Oddly, Newcastle Airport growing

Newcastle Airport is an enigma. Situated in an officially depressed area, on a small field not designed for the weight of jumbo jets, it is doing what nobody quite understands: growing.

Duty officer T. E. Storey is frankly perplexed by its success, although he chuckles over it. Already its modern building, with a capacity of 650 passengers per hour, is often overcrowded, and a government loan of L5 million pounds ($11 million) is being sought for expansion.

The airport's eight scheduled carriers fly to other parts of Britain and to Amsterdam; Paris; Bergen/Stavanger, Norway; and Dublin. Moves are afoot to include Brussels, and charter traffic to the United States and Canada is booming. A Category B facility, it is the fastest-growing of Britain's provincial airports.

Airport personnel estimate that traffic is about evenly split between business and holiday travelers, and that it is the latter that have spawned the recent growth. In addition, the airport houses a flying club and general- aviation traffic, including some North Sea oil service. The weather, although often overcast, is generally good for flying, so that the field remains open when others in Britain have closed down.

Along with Teesside Airport in Cleveland, it brings the Northwest to within 45 minutes of Heathrow. The day I flew out -- leaving at 4 p.m. (after sunset) on a December Friday -- we were jammed in a British Airways Trident 2, so full that luggage went on people's laps. Once again, it was a scene to belie statistics about the area's economy.

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