Bdaily meets Newcastle International Airport chief, David Laws
David Laws began his career as a trainee fireman at Newcastle International Airport and has risen through numerous roles to become chief executive. As well as steering one of the North East’s most important pieces of infrastructure David is also President of the North East Chamber of Commerce. We caught up with him to find out about the synergies between his two roles.
Newcastle International has gone from strength to strength, and just last week reported a £1.7m rise in revenues. The airport now boasts routes with Emirates and has recently secured further capacity with Thomson and First Choice.
“I see a lot of similarities between the way the airport operates and the LEPs. We have this partnership between stakeholders and local authorities and we’ve established a really strong relationship. We’ve just put the finishing touches to our aeronautical strategy for the next five years and we’ve got a new master plan that sets out the airport’s vision right through to 2030,” says David.
Back in October 2012, Australian private equity firm AMP acquired a 49% stake in the airport and David says the new shareholders are now fully integrated into operations and strategic direction.
David adds: “The bad weather made for a difficult start to the year, but in subsequent months we’ve seen some year-on-year growth. In May we saw just over 4.2% growth and in June we finished about 2% up. Now we’re into the busy summer period.”
Growth has been fuelled by stellar operators such as Thomson and Jet2, delivering a mix of chartered and low-cost flights to the Northern market. David expects further growth from easyJet who have just announced twice weekly flights to Tenerife, beginning in November.
“There’s been a few challenges too. Flybe sold their slots into Gatwick so now we’re in discussion with easyJet who bought them. That’s a really important route for us and hopefully we will be able to convince easyJet that it’s the right thing to do,” adds David.
Ultimately, Newcastle International would not only like to see a third runway at Heathrow, but also the ring-fencing of Heathrow slots for regional airports - the route into emerging markets for regional businesses. Planning and corporate affairs director, Graeme Mason, has recently been dispatched to London to lobby this case at the Davies Commission on airport capacity.
“You can’t take airports for granted in the current climate, and people and businesses need to be able to get behind their regional airport. With the greatest respect to Durham Tees Valley, we know that losing their Heathrow slots was a blow,” explains David.
He also points to the impacts of Air Passenger Duty (APD) and says of the £53m turnover at Newcastle International last year, the Chancellor collected £48m in APD.
David says the certainty of package holidays and the chance to build-your-own break with low cost flights are two complementary products, both crucial to the airport’s growth.
He continues: “Even during the hard times of the last five years we’ve been able to keep our market roughly the same. I’ve just looked at our scheduled international passengers for the last week and it’s 6% growth, year-on-year. That represents some significant growth with the likes of Air France-KLM and Emirates.
“This year we’ve had the benefit of the bigger aircraft from Emirates that just keeps breaking passenger records every month. That route has done so much for the region - business have been created as a result of it.
“At the moment the record is about 9,960 passengers in a month, but in July there’s a possibility that we could reach the 10,000 mark.”
The Emirates relationship has also helped the airport’s marketing and expose in the region, not least as sponsors of the Durham International Cricket Ground: the cricketer’s shirts adorned with “fly Emirates, from Newcastle International, your airport.”
It has also proved a useful relationship for David, as Emirates’ President Tim Clark is due to deliver the NECC’s keynote speech at Newcastle’s Civic Centre this October. As the first annual dinner of David’s Presidency, it was important for him to offer members an insight into his industry.
David explains: “I’ve got tough shoes to fill following John Mowbray’s Presidency but I’ve taken the opportunity to put down what I stand for. That’s about a common voice and strategy for the region. We need to be singing from the same hymn sheet.
“I firmly believe the powers that be in London sometimes look up here and see a fragmented region - and it’s easy for them to say no.
“If we had that common voice we could then stand up for what we all believe in. That seems to be going down well, and I’ve had an invite from Graeme Henderson at Teesside University to go down and talk to prominent businesses there, as well as the LEP.”
Getting out and about in the region to spread this message is David’s main aim and he sees the next 12 months as crucial to the North East’s recovery.
“One of the main things that North East businesses need to decide is what we all really want in terms of infrasturcture. Is it the Western By-pass, the A19 and the A1 to Edinburgh? What’s the future for the Metro - will it be extended? If we don’t know, central government have a chance to ignore it,” he concludes.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Tom Keighley .