Doncaster Sheffield Airport: Memories of optimism back in 2005 - and why it never quite happened for 'Robin Hood'

In 2005, the year Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield opened, I was 16 and living just a few miles away.
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I still remember the excitement that swirled around Doncaster at the time as the first destinations were announced, bringing Europe and North America to our doorsteps during a period of general pre-recession optimism in the town.

The old RAF Finningley, famed for its air show, had been shut for several years and the site was abandoned and starting to become shrouded in local myth - the woods where the bomb store had been, the rumours that children's TV game show Jungle Run was filmed in a hangar, the former station commander's house still occupied near the gates.

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Yet despite considerable local support - I recall the FLY (Finningley Locals Say Yes) car stickers that were a regular sight, though there was an opposition campaign group too - it just never quite happened for what is now Doncaster Sheffield Airport.

Aircraft grounded at Doncaster Sheffield Airport during the 2020 lockdownAircraft grounded at Doncaster Sheffield Airport during the 2020 lockdown
Aircraft grounded at Doncaster Sheffield Airport during the 2020 lockdown

Within a few years of opening, original routes had been dropped or altered, and the vast car park never seemed to be full. The Airport Arrow shuttle bus - complete with Robin Hood branding - was often empty, used mainly by locals and eventually disappeared.

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The Robin Hood name itself was greeted with bafflement, as the outlaw is associated far more with Sherwood Forest and Nottinghamshire, to the south of Doncaster - we never really felt that we could claim him as our own, despite his international appeal.

There followed a constant cycle of new carriers and routes being announced before withdrawals and suspensions. Flying from their local airport never really became a habit for Doncastrians, despite the convenience - the choice offered by Manchester, Leeds Bradford and East Midlands surpassed it. Now, it could close, with bosses confirming this week that commercial flights are no longer viable since the departure of two major carriers, Flybe and Wizz Air, since 2019 leaves just one, TUI, operating from the base.

The Vulcan is now based in a hangar at the airportThe Vulcan is now based in a hangar at the airport
The Vulcan is now based in a hangar at the airport
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Yet the airport has in many other ways been fantastic for Doncaster. The cargo hub has soared since planning restrictions on night flights were lifted in 2010, and some of the biggest planes in the world regularly land freight on what was once RAF Finningley's huge Cold War-era runway. It was this endless stretch of concrete where the Vulcans took off from on their way to the Falklands War that really sealed belief in Doncaster's potential as an aviation industry leader.

The business park around the airport has developed, new housing in the nearby villages of Auckley and Finningley has revitalised the area where the RAF families once lived, and the old officers' mess has been restored by a private school. The Great Yorkshire Way, a link to the M18, may not have been the airport's salvation, but it has certainly helped the Yorkshire Wildlife Park grow as a major visitor attraction.

Then there were the glamour years of the Vulcan - XH558, the last survivor, which was airworthy until 2015 and took off from Doncaster for four years. It remains there, grounded in a hangar that its owners want to become a heritage visitor centre. Let us hope that the Vulcan can stay - a symbol of aviation history that endures.

Back in the early 2000s, Doncaster reached for the skies - and it very nearly worked.

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