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22 July, 2015 - 14:29 By Tony Quested

Stansted Airport owners in for the long haul

Stansted Airport managing director Andrew Harrison

Stansted Airport managing director Andrew Harrison and members of his commercial team are visiting major global airlines once a month to accelerate the return of regular long-haul flights to the Essex hub.

Harrison (pictured above) spent 42 and a quarter hours in the sky on one recent round that took in carriers in the Middle East, Far East and the US but says there can be no let up in a relentless pursuit to make long haul and Stansted synonymous once more.

Four airlines have tried to establish a Stansted-US service over recent times but only Continental – hit by 9/11 three months in – could claim ill-fortune. The last of the pretenders, American Airlines, nipped in, took out two rivals, and promptly pulled out again but had cleared a pitch for a future day.

Stansted’s owner, the Manchester Airport Group, today announced a strong set of results and Harrison said M.A.G was utterly determined to continue to invest in an aggressive growth strategy for Stansted.

He said: “Today we had our 13th successive month of double digit growth and it is not a flash in the pan. Over the period of M.A.G’s results Stansted experienced a 16 per cent increase in passenger numbers – representing growth of four million people – which is more than Gatwick and Heathrow combined.

“What’s even more interesting is that business passenger numbers grew even faster – around the 20 per cent mark. Stansted’s catchment area has grown and and we have managed to capture more of that market than previous operators of the airport. But we are not finished by any means.

“Carriers like Ryanair have repaid our faith by increasing the number of routes they are now putting through Stansted which previously went elsewhere – 35 new routes in Ryanair’s case.

“There has been an increase in services that allow business executives to get out to a European destination and back in the same day, which is a tremendous advantage to busy companies.”

Stansted is also seeing an uptick on the leisure side with Thomas Cook just having launched Orlando, Cancun and Las Vegas. All the maiden flights last weekend were full and the service is 98 per cent sold for the whole summer.

Harrison believes there is a lot more business where that came from. He said: “200 airports a year visit these carriers and we have to change the narrative so airlines realise the significance of our catchment area.

“London Stansted gives airlines access to London, the huge science & technology cluster in Cambridge, East London, Herts, Essex and the whole of East Anglia. And potential passengers in this catchment don’t have to undergo the ordeal of a one and a half, or even four and a half hour drive to get to Heathrow to catch a plane when they have Stansted on their doorstep.

“Myself and my commercial team are going around the world telling top carriers our story – and the reality is we now have to achieve cut-through. We have to convince American Airlines, for example, sitting in Dallas that their understanding of London and Stansted is outdated; that the east of our catchment is growing faster than the west; that Cambridge is driving major jobs growth and attracting life science giants such as AstraZeneca and now Illumina, and tech greats such as Apple.

“Because of what has happened – or rather not happened – under past ownership, Stansted visiting these airlines is not simply starting from zero: It is starting from -1. We have to work twice as hard as competing airlines, therefore, to show these carriers that they have got it wrong.”

Harrison and the team report encouraging feedback to date and believe that converting the first of these mega-prospects into a customer will prove transformational.
M.A.G intends to continue its investment in Stansted facilities beyond the current £265 million programme which is 50 per cent complete.

Buoyed by the fact that it has the capacity that Heathrow and Gatwick lack, and that it could be years before Heathrow gets another runway, M.A.G intends to harness technological innovation to elicit the maximum capability from Stansted’s infrastructure.

That will include investment in new technology to boost security – ensuring that austerity cuts to the Home Office’s Border Force budget does not undermine passenger confidence. It will also involve increased automation of check-in facilities to further improve the customer experience.

One innovation will involve hi-tech tagging of luggage – even down to tagging a passenger’s bag at Cambridge railway station, for example, so they can simply pick up the already checked-in luggage when they arrive at Stansted.

“We intend to explore every conceivable angle to make Stansted a dream venue for air travel,” said Harrison.

• Manchester Airports Group reports revenue 10 per cent higher to £738.4 million and operating profit 30.8 per cent ahead to £153.6m  for the 12 months ended March 31.

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