FLIGHTS to cities in western Europe could depart from Oxford Airport for the first time as early as next year.

Airport bosses said there were 10 routes viable for a small number of scheduled services, including Dublin, Edinburgh and Amsterdam.

It came as Oxfordshire County Council backed expansions in services and said the airport near Kidlington – formally London Oxford Airport – was key to economic growth.

The airport’s head of development, Tony Farmer, said discussions were already under way with the council and the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

He said: “The airport as it is can accommodate a small number of scheduled operations without having to do anything to the infrastructure.

“We believe it will be an evolutionary process. It is possible that limited scheduled flights could appear next year.

“At this time we don’t want to give hopes about any particular destination, but the proposed airlines will need to have an existing overlap in commercial and operational strategy.”

He added that he did not think noise would be an issue: “I think people would be more likely to be disturbed by the current training aircraft that we have here.”

County council leader Ian Hudspeth added: “It could be a real boon for everyone, providing a useful business connection and services for the general public, who would appreciate not having to drive to Heathrow, Gatwick and Birmingham.”

He said the airport was wellplaced to serve an expanding Begbroke Science Park and the proposed Northern Gateway, with the new Water Eaton railway station and parkand-ride nearby.

But residents and environmentalists warned an increase in airport movement “was the last thing the county needed”, putting in jeopardy the green belt between Woodstock and Kidlington.

Peter Jay, a Woodstock town councillor and chairman of the campaign group ROAR (Rural Oxfordshire Action Rally), said: “We have none of the social capital – road network, hospitals, affordable housing and amenities – needed to support such grandiose plans.

“The green belt between Woodstock and Kidlington would be fatally jeopardised.”

In 2010, daily flights to Edinburgh were launched by start-up airline Varsity Express but ended after a week, and in December 2011, a oneoff flight to New York’s John F Kennedy Airport took off.

Scheduled services also operated from the 80-year-old Oxford airport to Edinburgh and Dublin, with Minoan Air, over several months in 2013