Mark Johnston, operations director at Glasgow International Airport, talks to Airside about the rapid expansion in services that the gateway is enjoying, and the additional infrastructure and facilities it is putting in place to support that growth
Q. HOW AND WHY HAS GLASGOW AIRPORT’S TRAFFIC GROWN SO IMPRESSIVELY OVER THE LAST YEAR OR SO?
A. 2015 has been a fantastic year so far for Glasgow Airport. As well as having our busiest April and June on record, we were classified by airport trade body ACI (Air Council International) Europe as one of the fastest-growing airports in Europe over the first six months of 2015. After welcoming more than 7.7 million passengers through our doors in 2014 – representing our fourth consecutive year of growth and our busiest year since 2008 – we expect to finish 2015 with comfortably more than eight million passengers. This will be a significant milestone.
During this calendar year alone, we have secured 22 new routes and services, making huge inroads into growing our European city network as well as our list of long-haul routes. With 30 airlines serving approximately 110 destinations worldwide, Glasgow Airport prides itself on being Scotland’s principal long-haul airport. In addition to being Scotland’s largest charter hub, we also serve more Scottish destinations than any other airport.
Our low-cost carriers include Ryanair, Wizz Air and easyJet – the latter our biggest carrier. They have all strengthened our connectivity with a number of European cities. In April, Wizz Air made a series of announcements including the news it will launch direct flights to Budapest in Hungary, the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and the Polish city of Lublin. Ryanair now serves 10 destinations, including Warsaw, Berlin and Riga, whilst easyJet has added Bordeaux, Milan, Dubrovnik and Marrakech.
In May, Canadian airline WestJet launched its first UK service from Glasgow with a daily direct flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Thomas Cook Airlines also began a new direct service to Las Vegas, and announced that it will begin direct flights to Barbados and Cancun from this winter. We have always been extremely proud of our position as Scotland’s leading long-haul airport, so the addition of further long-haul flights has been particularly pleasing.
To date, our focus has been on delivering the routes that will prove popular with both our business and leisure passengers, and we will continue to use that strategy as we move forward. Our airline development team works closely with our city and national partners, engaging with airlines all over the world to secure new routes and services. Together with organisations such as the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau and VisitScotland, we work to develop compelling propositions to encourage airlines to choose Glasgow over competing markets. This partnership approach has achieved great success over the years.
There are many reasons why airlines want to fly to Glasgow – a city described as the economic powerhouse of Scotland. Scotland’s largest city, it hosts more than 30,000 registered businesses that have a combined annual turnover of £31 billion (US$49 billion).
Q. HAVE YOU INVESTED IN INFRASTRUCTURE AND FACILITIES TO SUPPORT YOUR TRAFFIC GROWTH?
A. Earlier this year, we embarked on a £3 million ($4.7 million) project to extend one of our three piers. This came in direct response to our success in securing a host of new routes and services over the past year and is a key infrastructure development that will support our future growth.
The project, which got underway in January and was completed in May, involved the construction of a two-storey, 1,400 square metre extension to the pier, which serves airlines including Ryanair and easyJet. It also created a spacious and modern gate room for departing passengers.
Importantly, the extension provides us with the flexibility to accommodate and respond to further growth. It also reflects the modern fleet employed by customer airlines. The East Pier includes a pier-served Code E stand. Long-haul travel is where we see our future growth lying, and it is vital that our investment plans are aligned with the long-term business strategy.
Together with the East Pier extension, Glasgow Airport has invested £20 million ($31 million) over just the past year in enhancing its facilities, helping to ensure our passengers have an enjoyable experience. In 2014, we opened our doors to the world for a host of major events, including the 2014 Commonwealth Games, golf’s Ryder Cup and the MTV European Music Awards.
To ensure we were ready to play our part, we completed a major terminal investment programme days before the Commonwealth Games got underway. This included a significant refurbishment of the international arrivals area, the modernisation of the main check-in hall, landscaping of a new public space at the front of the terminal, new flooring in the domestic pier, installation of new heating and ventilation systems in Terminal Two and a £1.5 million ($2.4 million) upgrade of all toilet facilities.
Q. HOW ELSE WILL THE BENEFITS OF THESE IMPROVEMENTS BE MANIFESTED?
A. Since 2006 we have committed in excess of £110 million ($172 million) on capital projects designed to provide a better experience for our passengers.
We are committed to build on this success and continue to improve our facilities to enhance the customer journey. The East Pier extension will allow us to accommodate even more aircraft during our peak periods, including the first wave of departing passengers each morning, as well as during our busiest periods, including the summer holiday season.
Q. HAVE YOU UNDERTAKEN ANY OTHER INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS/EXPANSION OF LATE, AND DO YOU HAVE MORE INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS SCHEDULED FOR THIS YEAR AND BEYOND?
A. In June, we completed a £500,000 ($800,000) project to transform the look and feel of our dedicated passenger lounge, Upper Deck. Our executive lounge caters for over 100,000 passengers per year, offering them a quiet and comfortable area to relax before their flight.
We will continue to invest heavily in our airport over the coming months and work is already underway on a multi-million pound upgrade to our airside departure lounge. As well as changing the way our passengers travel through the airport departure area, this work will also see the introduction of a wide variety of new retail and catering outlets.
Our terminal remodel will be rolled out in three stages, with phase two due to begin in October and set for completion next spring. This phase will involve the relocation of a number of our existing retail outlets to larger, more visible locations within the airport and will also change the shape of our departures hall, so that our domestic and international passengers have the same full airport experience and access to the widest possible range of retail and catering facilities.
Q. YOU MENTIONED THE FACT THAT YOU SEE LONG-HAUL OPERATIONS AS VERY MUCH YOUR FUTURE PRIORITY. HOW YOU WILL SEEK TO ATTRACT MORE OF THESE SERVICES?
A. Long-haul travel is where we see our future growth, which is one of the reasons why we invested in extending the East Pier this year, bringing our total number of Code E stands at the airport to six. At present, Glasgow has 18 long-haul services – more than any other Scottish airport – including direct flights to New York, Philadelphia, Toronto and Las Vegas. This is something we are striving to develop in the years ahead and we are confident of retaining our position as the airport of choice for long-haul travellers.
In April 2014, we demonstrated the potential of our infrastructure when we welcomed the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft – the A380 – to the airport, to mark Emirates’ 10-year anniversary of flights to Scotland. It was the first time a Scottish airport had ever welcomed an A380. Thousands of spectators from across the country turned out to gather at the airport’s perimeter and other vantage points for the event.
If we were to have an A380 arriving on a regular basis at Glasgow, this would require some general infrastructure adjustments that would be well within our capabilities.
Overall, our long-term investment plans are aligned with our business strategy to continue to grow our long-haul route network, and we have a number of shovel-ready projects in the pipeline, including upgrades to our domestic stands and the resurfacing of our runway.
Q. HOW HAVE YOUR RAMP OPERATIONS REFLECTED THE GROWTH IN AIRCRAFT TRAFFIC?
A. Menzies and Swissport are our airlines’ handling agents, and these two companies are responsible for a whole range of services, including passenger processing through the terminal and baggage handling. As our passenger numbers grow, so does the amount of work required from these handling agents, which is why both companies have increased the number of staff they employ at Glasgow over the past four years. As our operation increases, there has also been a need to invest in new ground support equipment, such as aircraft stairs and unit load devices (ULDs).