Why Was Sheffield City Airport So Short-Lived?

Sheffield is the second-largest city in the UK’s Yorkshire and the Humber region, and is well-served by air. Indeed, there are five airports within a 90-minute drive of the city: Doncaster Sheffield (DSA), East Midlands (EMA), Humberside (HUY), Leeds Bradford (LBA), and Manchester (MAN). However, there also used to be one rather closer to home, just seven miles from the city center by road. This is the story of Sheffield City Airport.

Sheffield City Airport
Commercial services at the airport lasted just five years. Photo: Sevennay via Wikimedia Commons

An old plan, revived

The idea of constructing an airport on the outskirts of Sheffield first arose in 1968. At the time, nothing came of this concept, but, nearly three decades later, the plan was revived. This came about after research found that Sheffield might be a viable location for a new, small airport that used the same short takeoff and landing (STOL) model as London City.

London City Airport (LCY) was characterized in its early years by its short runway and steep approach (7.5 degrees). An extension has reduced the necessary glide slope angle to 5.5 degrees, although it remains steeper than the average European airport.

British Airways Short 360
Airlines flew small aircraft like the Short 360 to Sheffield City. Photo: JetPix via Wikimedia Commons

Sheffield’s hilly terrain meant that its new airport would also need to have a short runway, with little prospect of expansion. This would later prove to be a key factor in its demise. The new Sheffield City Airport (SZD) opened in 1997 with a 1,211-meter long runway.

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Five years of commercial service

1997 heralded the Sheffield City Airport’s opening, and passenger numbers grew for the remainder of the decade. They peaked at 75,000 in 1999. The airport served domestic (Belfast, Jersey, London) and international (Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin) routes. These services were operated by Aer Arann, British Airways, KLM UK, and Sabena.

Sheffield City Airport
The airport’s former location remains evident today. Photo: Google Maps

KLM’s British subsidiary was particularly pleased with its presence at the airport, reportedly describing its Sheffifled-Amsterdam route as its best-ever startup. However, passenger numbers began dropping as the new millennium rolled around. 60,000 people used the airport in 2000, a 20% reduction vs the previous year, and this decline soon worsened.

Indeed, 2001’s figure of 33,000 was nearly 50% lower. By 2002 they had fallen to 13,000, and the end was nigh. This was the last year that commercial flights served the airport, five years after it opened. The low-cost boom rendered its model obsolete, and it couldn’t expand to accommodate budget airlines’ larger jets. Its CAA license was withdrawn in 2008.

The airport’s former terminal building and ATC tower remain on the industrial estate and business park that have taken its place. Photo: Chemical Engineer via Wikimedia Commons

The airport today

Today, the site of the airport is home to an industrial estate and business park. It is part of the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP), a project helped by the European Regional Development Fund. Ironically, aircraft manufacturer Boeing has a facility on the site. Meanwhile, the land which housed the runway remains empty, and is visible from above.

As for Sheffield, it didn’t have to wait long before another airport opened close to the city. Doncaster Sheffield Airport (closer to Doncaster, but still just 35 minutes from Sheffield) commenced operations in 2005. This has been a successful enterprise, with low-cost and leisure airlines transporting nearly 1.5 million passengers a year before the pandemic.

Did you know about the story of Sheffield City Airport? Perhaps you even flew from there during its short period of operation? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.