The Government has confirmed the air link between Newquay airport and London is eligible for a state-funded subsidy – with politicians hoping the soon-to-be-axed route can be restored by next summer.
Flights between Cornwall's only airport and the capital are due to end on March 30, raising huge concerns over the economic impact on the far South West.
Flybe said it would be withdrawing from the route in May, saying Gatwick's landing charges were excessive. Earlier this month easyJet, which has bought the landing slots at Gatwick from Flybe and operates seasonal flights to Southend from Newquay, said that there was "insufficient demand" to maintain the London link.
But now the Department for Transport has confirmed to Cornwall Council the route is eligible for a public service obligation (PSO) – which could mean several million pounds a year over a number of years to underwrite the unprofitable link. Earlier this month, the council held initial discussions with the Department for Transport regarding the possibility of the Government providing a subsidy on the route between Newquay and London to help secure the long-term future of this vital air link.
Councillor Adam Paynter, Cornwall Council's cabinet member for partnerships, said: "The news that the route is eligible for a PSO is obviously good news for the council and for Cornwall.
"The next stage is for the Department for Transport to formally notify the European Commission (EC) of its decision."
This will then be followed by the council issuing tender documents inviting airlines to submit bids to operate a service. Under EC regulations, airlines must have a two-month period in which to prepare and submit bids to the council.
At the same time, discussions are also continuing with a number of airlines to see if there are any opportunities for the service to be provided without the need for the state subsidy. Imposing a PSO on the route between Newquay and London will mean the Government providing a subsidy to an operator to deliver the connection for a four-year period.
Councillor Paynter said: "Although our aim is to tender for a new service to begin on April 1, 2014, the length of the formal process means that it is possible that it will not be in place until later in the summer. This would result in a short break in service.
"The Department for Transport is very aware of the issues we are facing and the need for a decision to be made as quickly as possible."
Chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership, Chris Pomfret, said: "The provision of a regular year-round service from Newquay to a London hub airport with a schedule that works for business is vital to the economy of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
"The LEP fully supports this move to try and secure a PSO on the route and we will shortly issue a call for evidence to local businesses to help argue the case for air links to one of the London hub airports."