In this first Buyer’s Assessment, a feature that will form a regular part of Airside International, we take a look at the importance of the airside bussing operation at the UK’s Manchester Airport, and the Cobus vehicles used to serve it
Andy Willis, transport operations manager buses at Manchester Airport, looks after the northern UK gateway’s fleet of buses, both landside and airside. He holds the operator’s licence for those buses and is responsible for compliance with that license, while overseeing their 24 hours a day, 365 days a year operations.
It’s no small job, but he has 21 years of experience in the job to help him. In fact, Willis was a prime contributor to setting up the modern airside bussing operation at Manchester back in 1997, he confirms.
The landside and bussing operations at Manchester form part of the wider responsibilities of the Passenger Transport Services division at the airport, which also encompasses trolley collection, transfer baggage movement and airside passenger transfers between terminals, the last of which requires a set of smaller transport vehicles – Alexander Dennis Enviro200 single-deck buses. The Passenger Transport Services operation requires no less than about 300 staff.
But it is the landside and airside bussing operations that Willis directly oversees, and this is sufficiently complex in its own right. Landside, 36 Alexander Dennis and Optare buses ferry passengers to the airport from the airport car parks, and back again upon their return to the UK. Airside, 33 Cobus buses transport travellers to remote stands from the airport terminals, and vice versa.
Manchester Airport is responsible for – and operates – all these buses. The vehicles are serviced by the gateway’s own engineers, and small levels of accidental damage can also be fixed on-site. For more significant levels of damage, a vehicle will either be repaired by a subcontractor, or sent back to the manufacturer for repair there. The airport’s Motor Transport (MT) department, which handles bus operations and their servicing, includes about 30 full-time fitters and, as well as looking after the airport’s own buses, also carries out maintenance and repairs for third parties – some of the vehicles and GSE operated by the handlers active at Manchester.
This is another example of how the airport authority is taking some of the onus off the gateway’s handlers, Willis says. In particular, because the airport provides all airside bussing, this takes away that requirement from third-party service providers operating on the apron. Yet Manchester Airport guarantees a high level of performance from its bussing operation through strict service level agreements (SLAs) confirmed with the relevant ground handling agents (GHAs).
The airport’s airside bussing operation is handled by a fleet of six Cobus 2700 – acquired just last year – and 27 Cobus 2700s buses. The 2700 can take about 95 people, and are particularly suitable for handling the ever-greater number of A380s now flying into Manchester; although the vast majority of these superjumbos will dock at terminal piers rather than at remote stands, when they do dock remotely the MT division will send about seven 2700 buses to move the 619 or so people that can be carried on these huge aircraft. The slightly smaller 2700s buses carry about 70 people to and from remote stands. They are operated in three shifts of eight hours, every day of the year, and Willis is in no doubt about the worth of these vehicles and of their manufacturer.
“They are the best bit of kit an airport will ever buy,” he enthuses, pointing to their benefits in terms of reliability, low fuel consumption and durability. “Our drivers love them, they won’t drive anything else,” Willis continues, also highlighting the value of the quick and effective after-sales service offered by their manufacturer – Cobus will send an engineer to deal with any problem very quickly, he confirms. “When you buy a Cobus you don’t just buy a product: you join a family and we have such a great relationship with Cobus.”
“The buses do what they say on the side of the tin,” Willis assesses. And more may well be procured in the near future, as Manchester Airport is currently in the midst of a huge expansion programme, one that has been described as the (English) north-west’s biggest-ever infrastructure development project, part of the effort to meet the demands of the rapidly rising numbers of travellers using the gateway.
Larger numbers of passengers, a bigger airport requiring more remote (off-terminal) stands and bigger aircraft operated by more and more carriers (Singapore Airlines launched A350 services through Manchester in January, for example, adding to the A380 link offered by Emirates, while Qatar Airways and Etihad are amongst the other big long-haul carriers upscaling their operations through Manchester) all mean that the airport’s airside bus fleet is likely to grow in the near future. The forecast is that the airport may need to handle up to 42 million passengers a year by 2024. And, given Willis’s role in any procurement decision, it seems highly likely they might well be transported on Cobus buses.
These buses also fulfil an important ancillary role, in addition to their regular airside passenger transport. They are on permanent standby to react to any airport emergency, whether it relates to a problem on or with an aircraft or in an airport terminal; assigned emergency rendezvous points, they will drive straight to those areas as required, ready to move people from a point of danger. They can also be used simply for short-term localised containment of people in the case of emergency, keeping them safe, out of the elements and avoiding any potential problem of people walking or standing around on the apron.
Manchester Airport Group (MAG), which operates Manchester Airport as well as England’s London Stansted, Bournemouth and East Midlands gateways, is Britain’s biggest UK-owned airport operator. Together, the four airports handle about 42 million passengers a year, with Manchester serving the majority of these. By mid-November last year, MAG could announce that Manchester had served its 25 millionth passenger over the course of that calendar year, the first time it had hit that figure in its 78-year history.
The airport is the UK’s third-largest, with a catchment area said to reach out from North Wales in the west to Humberside in the east and all the way north up to the Scottish border.