IN JUST six months passenger numbers at Southampton Airport have plunged by as much as 98 per cent.

The covid pandemic and collapse of airline operator Flybe have taken their toll on the Hampshire airport.

Between February this year and September last year, terminal and transit passengers have fallen by a staggering 94 per cent on average each month.

During this time, 42,301 people passed through the airport in Eastleigh, based on figures from the Civil Aviation Authority.

However, between the same months, the year before the number was 755,230.

Departures area at Southampton Airport

Departures area at Southampton Airport

This means a drop of 712,929 passengers overall - or 94 per cent.

The most dramatic decrease was this February, with just 1,864 travellers.

Before the covid crisis, in February 2020, it was 107,169 - a 98 per cent difference.

In contrast, in September 2020, there were 16,699 passengers. This was still just a fraction of the 164,279 in September 2019 - 90 per cent fewer people.

The airport has been at the centre of fierce debate with plans lodged with local authorities to extend the runway by 164m.

Grounded Flybe flight at Southampton Airport on Thursday, March 5

Grounded Flybe flight at Southampton Airport on Thursday, March 5

During an Eastleigh Local Area Committee meeting, councillors were told that the expansion would create more than 1,000 jobs, boost the local economy and result in a £15m investment.

Planning officers have since recommended approving the expansion, but the government said it was considering a “number of requests” to call in the application.

Operations Director, Steve Szalay, has blamed the decrease on the “Covid induced travel ban” and the loss of Flybe.

However, he added: “We are anticipating witnessing a rise in domestic travel in the summer. Then as soon as we’re able to we will be making a start on the runway extension, which will, in turn, lead to an economic boost with 250 construction jobs alone. Delays and appeals on our planning approval are delaying these much-needed jobs being created.”

Southampton Airport Operations Director, Steve Szalay.

Southampton Airport Operations Director, Steve Szalay.

The airport is said to contribute £161 million per annum gross value added to the UK economy.

But the drop in numbers over the last year has already an impact on the local economy.

Taxi firm, Checker Cars, was forced to close its operation “with immediate effect” after Flybe announced it had gone into administration last March.

It attributed “insufficient passengers” to sustain a dedicated taxi operation.

CEO of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, Ross McNally, previously argued it is essential the application is approved for the future of the airport. And that it would back local businesses, communities and the potential of this economy.”