What would you give for a plate of decent fish and chips? In Bourges, I have to make do with pale imitations served up in local brasseries. A plate of the real thing? That’s a flight of fancy.
But there is good news for all fish-and-chips lovers in the Cher (18) and Indre (36) départements – from April 26, a new air route from Châteauroux to Southend-on-Sea could make a flying visit to the chippy a very real prospect.
Announced by Châteauroux airport president Dominique Roullet in mid-January, the new route – like so many from regional hub airports – is sold as a ‘London’ route, although Southend, is of course not exactly in London. A regular train service (3 trains an hour at off peak times) will, however, whisk travellers in to Liverpool Street in just under an hour, or Stratford International in 45 minutes. But who wants to go to London when you could be eating fish and chips on the seafront at Southend?
Operators on the new route are the small airline IG Avions – the French component of the Polish operators SkyTaxi. The company will fly a twice-weekly service, with prices ranging from €49 to €159 for a single ticket, and a flight from Châteauroux’s Marcel Dassault airport to London Southend takes 90 minutes.
Is this a viable venture, though? Isn’t it just a little risky opening up a new route in an area where the UK expat population is relatively low compared to other areas of France, and where Britons looking to fly back to Blighty are already served by Tours and Limoges? “Opening a new route is always risky,” said Mark Bottemine, general manager of the airport. “There is, however, a definite business-driven demand in the local area, to make a regular London route a viable option. Many companies expressed the need for a UK air link.”
The new route is not designed to ferry hordes of Britons into the ‘province of Berry’. It is first and foremost a business link and to this end, IG Avions are not operating large aircraft, but smaller, 34 seat, twin turbo-prop, SAAB 340B planes.
“These are very good aircraft and are perfectly adapted for our client needs.
“IG Avions have been flying them out of Châteauroux for years,” said Mr Bottemine. “They have a quick fill-up rate. It’s better to use smaller aircraft that take off full, than larger aircraft that take off half empty.
“If demand is such on this new route that we need extra capacity, we will simply add more flights. Let me stress, though, that this is not a new low-cost route – that is not our intention.”
Business demand is strong. The Indre and the Cher are home to major players in the defence and Aerospace sector, including Nexter and MBDA, in Bourges, and Zodiac Aerospace, in Issoudun.
There is also a demand from the local food and drink industry – with the likes of, Laiteries H Triballat and Sirops de Monin, who sell their products worldwide, and local winegrowers (Sancerre, and Menetou-salon). If demand is such, though, why wasn’t the route launched years ago?
“For years, Châteauroux airport has been a major logistical platform, specialised in handling big freight operations. Freight is where the money is, not passengers.
“As part of a new business strategy it was decided to open passenger routes to key destinations. Along with the Southend route we are also opening regular services to Lyon and Toulouse.
“The Lyon route will allow local business direct and easy access to a major hub airport, while the Toulouse route means that our local aeronautical industries have direct access to their partners at Airbus.”
So, creating links for local business is very much the ethos of the new routes, which explains why the new ‘London’ route does not feature on the Southend airport website.
“Let us say for the moment that Southend are kind enough to give us space at their airport” Mr Bottemine said.
“This is a business-driven route, but we hope – eventually – to develop it for tourist use.”
As for financing, setting up all the new routes (Lyon, Toulouse and Southend) from Chateauroux will cost around €800,000, including advertising.
The council in Châteauroux is contributing €90,000 while Bourges is giving €20,000. Development grants have been applied for from the Indre and Cher departéments.
The Indre authorities have given the go-ahead for €90,000, while Cher has yet to give its decision The rest of the costs are being borne by The Conseil Régional (Région Centre), the airline and Châteauroux airport.
Business route or not, I’ll certainly be jetting into Southend for real fish and chips and a wander on the town’s famous pier.
As for the best fish and chips in Southend, the lady I phoned at the town’s tourist office recommends The Fisherman’s Wharf, on the seafront opposite the pier.
They do a large cod and chips for just under £15 and you can wash it down with a bottle of white Sancerre, for £28...