Neil Calls Time After 47 Years Keeping Motors Running at Teesside Airport

Teesside International Airport | Published on: 31st March 2023

It’s 1975.

Harold Wilson is nearing the end of his second term in Number 10 and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is storming the charts.

Neil Appleton has heard a job is going at Teesside Airport after his father strikes up conversation during a charity collection at the airport.

Aged 21, he took the chance and left behind Elliott’s Motors, in West Auckland.

Now he is nearing the end of a staggering 47-year career in the airport’s Motor Transport team – and will hang up his tool belt for the final time at the end of this month.

Come rain or shine, Neil has been hard at work fixing Fire Engines and the motor-powered vehicles which keep Teesside Airport running.

He recalled the ferocious and bitter winters in the 1980s, where the motor team would jump into action when the white stuff was forecast.

And he has outlasted many a Managing Director over his six decades on the job.

Neil said: “The fire engines have got better and the vehicles are newer – but, in general, it hasn’t really changed and you get on with the job.”

Now 68, Neil has made some terrific friends over the years – and recalled how the team would spring into action when snow was forecast.

He said: “As soon as it started to snow, they called out the fire section to clear it and we used to come out in case so we would be available to fix it straight away.

“There was one time it snowed, and we were one of the only airports in the country open.

“We had some big diversions from Boston and America – there were two or three big aircraft we had to get unloaded and we had buses and trains to organise. That was memorable.

“We also had an aid lift to arrange where everyone mucked in.

“The Christmas parties we used to have in The George were memorable – they were fun.”

After almost half a century of graft, Neil is now looking to put his feet up and visit some parts of the UK he hasn’t seen before.

“I’ll just take it as it comes,” he said.

“I have a little scooter and I’ll have a whizz around on that.

“We’ll have some holidays and I’ll tidy the garden up.

“My partner has sisters in Canada so we’ll visit them.

“I’ll just generally enjoy myself. There are lots of places in England I’ve never been to – I’ve not been to Devon or Cornwall so I’d like to see those.”

Born in Seaham Harbour, Neil grew up in Newton Aycliffe and still lives 20 minutes north of the airport today.

He admitted he’d miss the craic and friendship of his colleagues – but added the time was right to call it a day.

Neil said: “It’s going to the Fire Section as well as the Baggage and Fuel Sections and grabbing a cup of tea to have a natter with them. It’s the friendship you have with everyone.

He added: “When I first came, there was no security fence between the hangars and people could just walk or drive onto the apron. Things have changed a little bit now!”

Neil’s last day was today (31 March).

Phil Forster, Managing Director of Teesside International Airport, added: “I want to thank Neil for his tireless service to Teesside Airport and the wider Tees Valley. He has been a true stalwart of our Motor Transport team and his dedication, expertise and professionalism over an incredible 47 years has been second to none.

“Neil has played a vital role in keeping our vehicles running smoothly and ensuring that our airport operates safely and efficiently. He will be sorely missed, but we wish him all the best for a happy and well-deserved retirement.”

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