Bucking the Trend

The Yorkshire Premier Lounge has been extended and renovated to appeal to both business and leisure passengers. (All images: LBA)

While most of the region’s development has come to a standstill in the face of a flat economy, Leeds Bradford International Airport has seen major improvements in the last year. Caroline Cook reports.

The Yorkshire Premier Lounge has been extended and renovated to appeal to both business and leisure passengers. (All images: LBA)

When Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Calderdale and Kirklees local authority councils decided to sell jointly-owned Leeds Bradford International Airport (IATA: LBA), UK, in 2007, the £145.5 million (US$231.6m) proffered by winning bidder Bridgepoint Investment was an encouraging sign of things to come.
“Bridgepoint could clearly see the airport’s huge, untapped potential,” says Tony Hallwood, LBA’s Commercial & Aviation Development Director.  The airport serves the UK’s largest county, Yorkshire, and has a catchment of just under six million people.  Sitting midway between the country’s third- and seventh-largest cities, Leeds and Bradford, the airport has access to some of the wealthiest business and leisure passengers outside London.
 
Plans
Bridgepoint’s first step after acquiring the airport was to appoint a new senior management team, led by CEO John Parkin, bringing expertise and know-how from other airports, including Bristol and Newcastle.  The team spent time talking to passengers, businesses and stakeholders about the airport, gaining feedback on what people believed the airport needed to grow and prosper.
“Passengers and regional businesses liked the fact that Leeds Bradford was close and convenient,” says Mr Hallwood, adding:  “The airport is on their doorstep.  If there was a wider selection of routes, frequencies and airlines from Leeds Bradford, passengers would choose to fly from LBA in preference to other airports.
“Secondly, they said that the infrastructure and facilities at the airport were lacking, whether it be in the retail or catering arena, in the check-in area or car parking.”  He said the response to the survey showed that people thought that LBA was punching below its weight.
“We decided that we needed to provide much-needed investment to improve our facilities and deliver increased traffic growth.”
However, the global recession seemed to cause many problems for airports across the country.  As most infrastructure developments and plans slowed – and, in some cases, halted altogether – and UK passenger numbers faltered in the wake of the downturn, Bridgepoint was faced with the question:  after making the financial commitment to LBA a year earlier, would an uncertain economy stop the momentum of further investments?
According to Mr Hallwood, the answer was ‘no’.  He told Airports International that a “complete reverse logic” was taken.  Instead of allowing the financial crisis to dampen its spirits, Bridgepoint saw it as an ideal opportunity and the “appropriate time” to bring LBA’s standards up to a higher level, and so spent the next three years planning the airport’s comeback.
 
Improvement
On December 6, 2011, construction work began on a £11 million ($17.5m) investment for the airport.  Previous visitors to LBA will remember its narrow corridors, basic interior and outdated facilities.  In particular, there was an unusually tall ceiling.  This has now been slabbed over to create an expanded departure lounge at first-floor level, increasing LBA’s airside area by more than 60%.
Designed by Pascall+Watson, the redeveloped terminal includes a new walkthrough World Duty Free store, which opened on May 25.  The store, previously located just after security, now comprises 5,288sq ft (491m2) of retail space and holds a greater focus on higher-demand items, such as beauty products, which now occupy 50% more space in the shop.  Customers can also enjoy an enlarged WHSmith store or take a look around the now-airside Superdrug unit.
In partnership with food travel experts SSP UK, LBA was also the first airport in the world to welcome the Camden food co, which offers fresh Fairtrade and organic food.  Additionally, the airport’s Burger King was upgraded.
The Saltaire bar and restaurant is a new addition to the airport, offering passengers a sophisticated dining experience.

New bar and restaurant, The Saltaire, was opened in August, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and a muted, yet stylish, decor.  Downstairs, passengers can enjoy a drink at the familiar Danby Bar, which has been renovated to complement the airport’s new look.  There is also a landside Café Ritazza unit.
While the terminal benefits from new flooring, interiors and lighting, perhaps the most noticeable improvement is the expansion of the Yorkshire Premier Lounge.  Following its award for best staff from Priority Pass, the decision was made to expand the facility, which opened in 2010.  The lounge was previously open only to business passengers, but now covers twice as much floor space and comprises two separate areas, one for business and another for leisure travellers, the latter with an adjoining play area.
To generate more space and introduce a more efficient passenger process, the airport has commenced the first stages of expanding its central screening area, due for completion this autumn.  More space has been created in Check-In Hall ‘A’ and the gate areas are progressively improving with more seating and the expansion of holding areas.
LBA is also nearing completion of its first airside covered walkway, which extends from the terminal building across the edge of the apron with direct access to five aircraft stands.  “It allows us to streamline the passenger boarding process and provide a higher level of customer service,” Mr Hallwood says.  “It also provides passengers with added protection from the elements, especially during the winter period.
“We remain very confident that the major investment in our terminal facilities will encourage more customers to fly from Leeds Bradford,”  he asserts.  “We’re now making sure that our messaging in terms of terminal investment and route development reaches our Yorkshire customers.  Once they’ve flown through LBA and experienced our fantastic new facilities, we’re confident that they’re going to fly here for their holiday or business trip.”
 
Routes
Despite 2008 seeing a drop in passenger numbers at LBA – most likely due to the recession – solid investment in route development over the following years has resulted in a steady climb for the Yorkshire airport, as its passenger numbers reached new heights.  In 2010 it was the fastest-growing airport in the UK, with a 12% year-on-year increase in passenger numbers to almost 2.8 million passengers per year.  A 7% growth was seen last year when numbers hit a record high of 2,976,881.  While the 3 million-passenger mark is sure to be surpassed in 2012, LBA’s development works have increased the airport’s capacity to more than 4 mppa.
It could be argued that additional passengers have flown from LBA thanks to its improved list of airlines and destinations.  With more than 20 new destinations introduced in 2011 and 2012, and eight so far announced for 2013, LBA now serves more than 75 direct destinations across the UK and Europe.  In summer 2010, LBA became the 34th base for Ryanair, with two aircraft offering year-round services – recently increasing to three summer aircraft.  Jet2, the airport’s biggest and most successful carrier, has widened its travellers’ choice to more than 40 weekly destinations during peak summer periods.  Thomson Airways has expanded its services, while KLM has increased its summer capacity from three to four services a day.
In 2011, the airport was pleased to continue working with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) as its first long-haul transcontinental service, flying to and from Islamabad with a twice-weekly service.  This route particularly appeals to the large Pakistani community living in nearby Bradford.
This year alone, LBA has welcomed three major route announcements which will deliver increased choice in 2013.  Arguably the most significant of these was British Airways’ decision, announced in June, to commence four daily services to and from London/Heathrow from December 9, 2012.  This prime route will give passengers and businesses from Yorkshire a direct link to the capital as well as offering connections to further destinations on BA’s gigantic network at the London hub.
Meanwhile Monarch Airlines announced in July that it would launch Leeds Bradford as its sixth UK base for next summer, with 13 new scheduled routes and two based aircraft.  The carrier has also introduced Munich and Grenoble as new ski destinations from LBA for the first time.
A walkthrough World Duty Free store welcomes passengers to the airside environment on the second floor of the terminal.

Thomson Airways is set to reintroduce a based aircraft from summer 2013, with plans to operate ten routes including Egypt, Tunisia and a range of Greek and Canary Islands package holidays and flight cruise destinations.
Mr Hallwood also hints at the future introduction of more airlines.  “LBA has the demand to serve an increased range of destinations for our ethnic communities across Yorkshire, and we still have a number of European capital cities that are at the top of the list for business and inbound traffic demand.”  These include Madrid and Warsaw, as well as the ‘virgin territory’ of Scandinavia, where Oslo and Copenhagen would be vital additions to the airport’s route network.  Services to Eastern Europe, such as Estonia and Slovakia, and additional leisure destinations such as Valencia, Kefalonia and Naples, also make it on to the airport’s ‘wish list’.
Transatlantic services would undeniably boost the airport’s reputation as well.  Direct flights between Toronto and Leeds were operated by Wardair in the 1980s and a range of Canadian charter carriers have served the route in the past, and now Mr Hallwood suggests that those links may be re-established by another airline next year:  “In addition to Toronto, we also see the opportunity in the medium- to long-term for linking Leeds with the [United] States.  The US is Yorkshire’s largest trading partner and we know there’s significant demand for the potential for direct links into New York, with connecting services across the rest of the Americas.”
 
The Future
A common criticism directed at LBA has been its lack of public transportation links.  Although the airport now has twice-hourly bus services linking with Leeds and Bradford and an hourly bus service to Harrogate, it is still attempting to encourage a direct bus link with York, which would further increase its passenger number prospects.
Improvements have been made to the car-parking facilities and a new pick-up and drop-off zone has been created in front of the terminal in 2009.
The lack of a rail link is one of the airport’s obvious disadvantages, but Mr Hallwood insists that this will change.  “We are spearheading a regional strategy forum to encourage stakeholder support.  We believe train connectivity will complement the range of public and private transport links to and from the airport.  There is the potential, subject to central government funding and stakeholder agreement, that we could see a rail link at the airport by the end of the decade.”
 
 
A Challenging Project
LBA’s redevelopment project clearly faced a constrained time limit.  With approval for the work granted in autumn 2011, construction began last December and most of the project is now complete.  In less than 12 months, the airport has been transformed under the stewardship of LBA’s Operations & Engineering Director, Carl Lapworth.
Contractor Morgan Sindall played an integral role in the process.  Project Manager Michael O’Callaghan told Airports International that it was a very difficult and challenging project, which required a lot of co-ordination and help from all parties.
One of the toughest challenges was to complete the work not just within a small time frame, but without halting the airport’s day-to-day operations.  Mr O’Callaghan said:  “Morgan Sindall has a lot of experience working with operating terminals.  We worked closely with the airport to make sure that there was as little disruption as possible.  It was important to find windows of opportunity to do certain parts of the project.”
As a major part of the project involved adding a second floor to the terminal, the team had to segregate particular areas of the airport.  As well as occasionally moving airside boundaries to maintain passenger flow, much of the work had to be done overnight when the airport’s 24-hour operations were at their quietest.
Up to 240 construction workers at a time were on site during peak periods of development and around 50% of sub-contractors were local businesses.