David Laws is the man in charge at Leeds Bradford Airport and his lofty ambitions are grounded in 35 years of experience in the aviation industry. We met up with him to hear what he has in store for Yorkshire’s airport.
At the time of writing the aviation industry is facing a crisis not seen since the early 2000’s. Staffing and structural issues at RyanAir and the collapse of the UK’s fifth largest airline, Monarch, have seen the cancellation of tens of thousands of flights.
Taking the helm of one of the country’s busiest airports is never an easy task, but in such a turbulent atmosphere as today’s it is certainly an unenviable task.
Why Leeds Bradford Airport? Why now?
I spent most of my career at Newcastle airport, starting off as a trainee fireman, I worked my way through to Chief Executive. After 35 years at Newcastle Airport, I felt like there was another chapter in my life, another area which I wanted to explore and the opportunity at Leeds Bradford Airport came along, and after doing my research, I felt like this airport has huge potential and I think there is a great job for all of us to achieve to take Leeds Bradford Airport to another level.
How do you see investment in the airport benefiting the wider region?
Having been at Leeds Bradford Airport a few months now, my initial findings are that there is a lot to do, Leeds being the third largest city in the UK gives us a huge advantage over some other regional airports, we have a large catchment area to tap into but we need to understand the market, some of the first things that I’ve had a look at is why are people not using Leeds Bradford Airport, why are they using Manchester Airport, and that’s something that myself and the team have got to work on and convince people to fly from their local airport.
Providing a world-class airport is an enormous task, what do you see as the biggest challenges going forward?
I’m aware that the infrastructure at Leeds Bradford does need some improvement, as does the customer journey; it is one of the things I was passionate about in my previous role, I believe whether you are a business passenger or a leisure passenger, your journey starts at Leeds Bradford Airport and it’s up to my team to make sure that you feel comfortable, in preparation for your flight and have an enjoyable experience whilst you’re in our airport.One of the first things I noticed here was the security process; I’m a great believer that the security process needs to be as slick and efficient as possible while remaining compliant as safety and security are of paramount
importance to our customers. However, we have made some changes, and the good thing so far is that we used to have security queues lasting around 20/25 minutes and by changing the processes and getting the team to look at it, were now achieving targets of 10/12 minutes, which is a great improvement.
What are your plans to ensure passengers start their journey in the best possible way?
This year we have new retail offers come in, such as a new bookstore, we’re seeing changes to the Food & Beverage offering and we’ve got some great plans which are being completed over the winter, which will ensure that there is a choice for all passengers as and when they pass through the airport. We want to provide choices for families, couples and of course we want to cater for our younger passengers. The key thing is me is that everybody feels comfortable when they are passing through the airport and if you make the customer journey that much more enjoyable, then we will achieve our ultimate ambition which is to get everybody to fly from their local airport.
Could you tell us about your new aviation development plan?
Having talked about the culture and infrastructure, the next thing is that we have an excellent aviation development programme and what it means is for us to attract more airlines, more routes and more destinations for the people of this
region to enjoy. In order to do that we need to have a look closely at where people are travelling to and where people are travelling from, and it also needs support from businesses and the public, as the more times they use Leeds Bradford Airport, the more flights, destinations and choice I will be able to offer them; it’s a partnership.
Yorkshire has a very committed business community, how important is involving them in the airport’s plans for growth?
My style is to be very open with the business community, I believe in full engagement. What I want to do is understand from the business community is what they think is missing from this airport, In terms of what we call the business flight agenda, we really want to work with businesses to see what we can enhance in terms of the offer that we currently have. I think that’s important because of the route we’re going to start this year, which is a direct service to Dusseldorf, from a business perspective, getting that route with Flybe is important, if the business community can help by actually using the route, it will help me convince Flybe to introduce similar destinations across Europe. If we look at the role the airport plays in the wider aspect of the region’, then these destinations can help inward investment. The airport currently makes a good contribution to GVA. Currently, it is around £335 million pounds a year. We want to see that expand, we want to see more jobs created at the Airport, and we want to see the airport site being developed overall for the benefit of Yorkshire.
One of the things I have been impressed with in my first few months is the support I have had, from both Leeds City Council and Bradford Council, the LEP and others, who have all come forward to offer their support, which is very encouraging to me. I’m also very encouraged about the plans to improve infrastructure which would make getting to the airport easier. We’ve got the Parkway Railway station project, which I think will be a great help in terms of getting people to the airport and also the road that has been proposed that will help again with getting traffic to and from the airport, all of these things will help ensure that this airport goes from strength
Have you got a final message to the business community?
My message to the business community of Yorkshire is we have got a fantastic opportunity to work together, a great opportunity to open this region to the world. The whole benefit overall will be that there is an airport that the whole of Yorkshire can be proud of. We’re always open for comments, and we welcome comments. Finally, we look forward to delivering a world-class airport for this region.