The recent recession has been one of the toughest trading periods Exeter Airport has seen, probably since it was established more than 70 years ago.
I started with the airport in 2007 following its sale by Devon County Council to the Balfour Beatty-owned company Regional and City Airports. We have been dealing with the challenges of the downturn for most of that time.
However, Exeter Airport is now seeing the green shoots of recovery and the number of destinations offered from Exeter this year will now top 50.
We are expected to enjoy one of our busiest summers ever with large sector growth in package holiday flights to new destinations offered by Thomson and Thomas Cook holidays to Tunisia, Antalya, Dalaman and later on this year Egypt, as well as the return of the popular Canary Island and Balearic sun spots. We are also welcoming back weekly services to Toronto for the 22nd year.
No other regional airport of our size in the UK has ever maintained a summer service like it and the continued success of Flybe, the airport’s home carrier, is another good news story. We are seeing the return of business traffic on the scheduled services, as well as those visiting friends and relatives, to levels moving closer to pre-2009 figures. A new or refreshed government after the election will clearly pledge to implement plans enabling economic recovery and many are waiting the outcome of new legislation and budgetary reviews in the early summer.
Businesses will have three issues on their minds. Firstly, are we out of recession and are we moving towards recovery? Second, what will the new world of recovery be like and how far removed will it be from the years of boom? Third, what are the consequences for business after May 6?
The airport’s growth plans are reliant on new passengers as well as maintaining the loyalty of those who have travelled before.
We will continue to offer the “easy” option for the start of a holiday, minimising hassle factors often seen in larger airports. We also try to offer the South West traveller the opportunity to fly locally rather than drive to larger airports.
In 2010, we aim to maintain our good relationships with our neighbours through parish council networks and the airport consultative committee and work to help deliver better transport links through the airport user forum.
We also want to support the local community outside airport operations so this year we are proud to be the sponsor of the Exeter Food and Drink Festival. We will also continue to develop the relationships with Exeter City and Exeter Chiefs.
Our new car park initiative will also allow passengers parking at the airport to help a local woodland.
The Offwell Woodland and Wildlife Trust, a conservation and education charity near Honiton, which relies entirely on donations and grants to support its 50-acre woodland, will receive £1 every time flyers book the official car parking spaces online.
The start of the scheme coincided with this week’s reconfiguration of the short stay car park and the introduction of the automatic number plate recognition system at all airport car parks.
The airport aims to continue assisting economic recovery in the South West by creating skilled jobs and training either directly by the airport company or indirectly with partners such as Flybe.
We have supported inbound tourism through organisations such as Visit Devon and South West Tourism and intend to build on these relationships over the next few years to maintain the airport as the gateway to Devon and Cornwall.
Our Master Plan, published last year, was a blueprint setting out how we want to develop and benefit the local economy over the next 20 years. The plan included the Flybe Training Academy; the East of Exeter Growth Point Team is also working on the development of Skypark and other projects on sites to the east of the M5.
Environmental planning is also high on the agenda and we are moving forward with our plans to reduce the airport’s carbon footprint in its ground operations as part of our commitment to sustainability.
The next 12 months will be of vital importance to the plans for future development at the airport site.
Passenger levels will act as a catalyst to terminal development, relationships with new airlines and tour operators as well as continued and increasing services from incumbent partners. From that will flow new routes, better connectivity for business travellers and more opportunities for inbound tourists from countries not yet served from Exeter. This will mean new jobs as we grow to be an employer with more than 300 directly employed staff.
Jamie Christon – Exeter Airport Managing Director wrote for the Express & Echo First Person feature