THE PROJECTED economic benefits of Leeds Bradford Airport's expansion plans have 'not been significantly affected' by the pandemic.

That is the conclusion of a report which the airport (LBA) has presented to Leeds City Council in support of its terminal replacement scheme.

The document, by 'industry experts', analyses the impact of COVID-19 on LBA's growth strategy and concludes that future socio-economic benefits would 'not be affected, just slightly delayed'.

LBA says the findings confirm the viability of its proposals to replace its terminal with a state-of-the-art building that would enable it to increase annual passenger numbers to seven million.

Chief Executive Hywel Rees said: "Despite the short-term financial implications of COVID-19 on the aviation industry the findings within the report demonstrate how the development of a replacement terminal building will generate much needed jobs and economic growth for our region.

"It will allow us to improve public transport, reduce queuing times and improve the overall experience; providing better dining and shopping facilities, extend seating, and more efficient security and immigration areas.

"The development will create an economic boost to at a time when it is most needed, and create and sustain a range of highly skilled, permanent positions, as well as hundreds of construction jobs, from right across Leeds, Bradford and Yorkshire.

"Even at this early stage of lockdown restrictions being lifted passenger demand is very encouraging with some flights nearly full. This demonstrates that the appetite for travel has not gone away.

"We remain focused on delivering the terminal building within the original timeframes and of reaching our ambition to make our operations net zero by 2023."

Referring to a 'short-term downturn in passenger numbers', the report says that 2019 levels are expected to return by 2022 and, under that scenario, LBA could reach annual passengers numbers of seven million by 2032 - two years later than originally projected.

The document has done little to convince local climate change campaigners, however.

GALBA (Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport) Chair Chris Foren said: "The latest 'report' is simply smoke and mirrors to try and deflect from the fact that COVID-19 has decimated the aviation industry globally. To claim LBA is immune to Covid and that, economically, the arguments still stack up is disingenuous at best.

"This 'report' is not independent and has been rushed out to try and divert attention away from the facts. LBA has been forced to update its passenger claims but has simply moved all its figures forward by two years. Most aviation experts are now predicting that passenger numbers will not recover to 2019 levels until 2024 at the earliest.

"Our legal experts will be examining LBA’s update to understand whether there is any evidence to back up these surprising claims that fly in the face of other reports coming out of the aviation sector."

He concluded: "Regardless of when, or if, air travel demand picks up again it doesn’t change the fact that the LBA expansion would mean doubling its greenhouse gas emissions in the middle of the climate emergency."

A decision on LBA's terminal scheme is expected from Leeds City Council in the autumn.