Flying Back To Happiness - Airports Reborn
Regional & City Airports Chief Andrew Bell reflects on the ray of sunshine illuminating regional airports across the UK.
Sometimes it pays to pause for a moment, reflect on what’s happening around you, and count your blessings.
For the regional airport industry, this is one of those moments.
This month, after more than two years of uncertainty and doubt, RCA’s airports began to bloom back into life, returning to something like full operational status after many months of pandemic related restrictions.
The first of the holiday flights have already begun heading airside, with a slew of vacation routes poised to begin operations from the beginning of May, bringing fresh life and a positive bustle back to the airports - and with that a sense of optimism that’s providing a real boost to the entire team.
Even after the hiatus, the fresh blooming of positivity has enabled us to reopen with an operational service that maintains the standards we have always striven for. Thanks to the dedication of our existing teams we have avoided the congestion, delays and chaos that seems to have beset many other airports this month, offering the same quick, convenient, and welcoming experience on which our facilities have built their reputation.
As the pent-up demand for sunshine breaks begins to roll through our doors, the next few weeks will see the commencement of routes to some 79 destinations across Europe and beyond. Bournemouth is offering 33 destinations for the 2022/23 season from ski holidays to summer sun and city breaks, Exeter a further 28 destinations in eight countries, and Norwich a total of 18.
Providing a very real sense of positivity for the first time in what seems like an age is the fact that, beyond the resumption of pre-pandemic schedules, we are also witnessing the emergence of brand new routes. Exeter has already opened up flights to the USA and Canada via Dublin with Aer Lingus - offering through-ticketing, automatic baggage transfer
and pre-clearance of all US immigration and customs checks - while Bournemouth’s new flights to Hungary, Poland and Croatia launch very soon.
Add all of that to Norwich Airport’s 18 destinations in nine countries, with more than 150 connections worldwide thanks to year-round flights to Amsterdam, and suddenly the airports feel as if they’re approaching something very close to business as usual.
And that’s critically important, because business as usual for our airports means a return to something like normality for thousands of our customers. Beyond the families and groups of friends heading for the sunshine, our routes across Europe are connecting people with family, friends and businesses again - picking up the strands severed so suddenly for so many in 2020.
The benefits of this return to business are not merely being enjoyed by the hordes of holidaymakers preparing to descend upon our airports. The increased passenger activity, alongside Bournemouth’s rapidly growing international freight operation, means that this year we have created more than 155 new jobs across our three main airports, with 74 positions already filled and many new team members set to start work over the coming weeks.
The response to those vacancies has underlined the importance of regional airports to their local economies. More than 600 people attended Bournemouth’s two day Jobs Fair in January, and we are delighted to see the enthusiasm with which people across the country have received the creation of a slew of new high skilled, high value positions.
There is no question that the regional aviation sector still faces many challenges in the years ahead. We still require a coherent national aviation strategy to help the industry evolve into the future, and there are significant issues - not least the movementent towards Net Zero - standing in our immediate path.
Now is not the time to cast gloom on the subject however. From the cost of living crisis to war in Ukraine, the world has more than enough problems to contend with, so the return of something very close to normal service offers a glimmer of hope that, for all the ifs and buts, many people are only too delighted to grip onto.
And, as we approach the Easter break, that is something very much worth celebrating …