Stansted Airport eyeing move into long haul market

Thomson Airways' new Boeing 787 Dreamliner touching down at Stansted earlier this year. Thomson will

Thomson Airways' new Boeing 787 Dreamliner touching down at Stansted earlier this year. Thomson will join Thomas Cook in operating transatlantic flights from Stansted next summer. - Credit: Archant

Stansted Airport managing director Andrew Harrison tells Stephen Pullinger about the ambitious plans to establish the Essex hub as the first choice for East Anglia’s business travellers.

Stansted Airport has set out to woo East Anglian business travellers as it seeks to introduce regular long haul flights out of Essex as early as next summer.

The airport has already seen business passenger numbers surge by 20% in the past year and managing director Andrew Harrison is confident that trend will continue.

As part of a corporate charm offensive, the airport - acquired two years ago by the Manchester Airport Group (MAG) during the break up of BAA - has appointed a corporate relationship manager to establish links with the region’s businesses and seek a greater understanding of their needs.

Mr Harrison, speaking in the wake of buoyant MAG results last month, said: “We have a widespread catchment and our goal must be to reflect the destination and carrier needs of very varied businesses, whether they are tech firms in London, life science companies in Cambridge or big players such as Aviva in Norwich.”


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He said examining data at a macro level showed the importance of flights into the US - “the biggest single route for business and leisure travellers is New York with a million people from our catchment flying there out of Heathrow each year” - and a key goal was to establish trans-Atlantic routes out of Stansted.

A trump card for the Essex airport was the ease of travel, cutting out the two-and-a-half hour travel time to Heathrow from many parts of East Anglia and taking away the unpredictability of the M25.

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“Stansted could offer the same advantages for business travellers flying east to the Middle East, India and China and for leisure travellers flying to Australia,” he said.

Working with a big Middle Eastern carrier would be an “obvious partnership” and Mr Harrison confirmed he and members of his commercial team were visiting major global airlines on a monthly basis to accelerate the return of regular long-haul flights to the Essex hub.

He said: “We have been working on this for more than two years, going out and about and telling airlines the great story about our region. And we have urged them to listen to what companies like Aviva, Willis Group and Tesco are saying too.”

Mr Harrison said the catchment was very strong – “the East of England is the fastest growing region in the UK at the moment” – with Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk prospering and London expanding rapidly in the east in terms of population and business growth as well as in the north towards Cambridge.

He said Stansted had a world class offer in terms of such key criteria as airline costs and punctuality and he was confident that once the first long-haul carrier took the risk of coming to Essex others would follow.

“We are targeting next summer and that is still not off the cards as airlines have not finished working on their routes. Otherwise, we are pretty confident it will be the summer afterwards,” he said.

The potential for long haul has been show on the leisure side with Thomas Cook this year launching summer flights to Orlando, Cancun and Las Vegas.

“The service is 98% sold for the whole summer and now Thomson has also decided to run long haul flights to Orlando and Cancun next summer using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner,” said Mr Harrison.

Meanwhile, Stansted’s growth in business travellers has been helped by the airport’s expanding number of European destinations.

Mr Harrison said: “We offer the largest range of European destinations in the UK. 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.

“And 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.”

He said MAG’s results, showing a 13th successive month of double digit growth, were no “flash in the pan”.

He said: “Over the period of the 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% mark.”

Working hard to continue the success story - buoyed by the fact that Stansted has the capacity that Heathrow and Gatwick lack and that it could be years before Heathrow gets another runway - MAG has committed to continue its investment in the airport’s facilities beyond the current £265million programme which is 50% complete.

Its renewed efforts to reach out to travellers from companies across the region saw a new business lounge opened earlier this year.

The development of the first lounge at the airport in its 24-year history was an instant hit, being visited by more than 9,000 passengers in its first month.

The “Escape” lounge brand, developed by MAG, is billed as offering a tranquil setting for both business and leisure passengers alike with services on offer including free unlimited wifi, plasma TVs, charging points and complimentary magazines and newspapers, as well as a self-service pantry and bar.

Looking to the future Mr Harrison said: “We intend to explore every conceivable angle to make Stansted a dream venue for air travel.”

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