COVID-19 - one year on


London Stansted's Managing Director, Steve Griffiths, reflects on one year of lockdown

Steve Griffiths, London Stansted Managing Director

This week marks one year since the country went into its first lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This has meant 12 months of disruption not only for London Stansted but for the entire travel industry, the like of which none of us could have imagined.

Airports around the world have seen a big drop in traffic, with Stansted’s passenger numbers dropping to as low as 1-2% of pre-pandemic levels.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel as the UK’s impressive vaccine rollout continues to gather pace.

Naturally, attention is now turning to the reopening of our economy and international travel must not be left behind.

The next few weeks for our industry are critical, as the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce (GTT) considers how international travel can resume from its target date of May 17.

The prompt and sustained reopening of travel is of course about giving people the opportunity to enjoy a much-needed holiday and visit loved ones after an extremely challenging 12 months, but it is also about much more than that.

The Taskforce is due to report in April. We are playing an active role in those discussions and will continue to make the case for a system that is risk-based, affordable, easy for consumers to understand and puts our industry on a path to sustained and consistent recovery.

This, in turn, will protect the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on our world-leading aviation sector getting back on its feet at the earliest opportunity.

Important role

With extremely high fixed costs and no scope to diversify, airports have suffered significant financial losses over the last year while staying open during the pandemic.

Stansted has played an important role in supporting repatriation flights, helping transport key workers, and vital supplies including medical equipment and PPE passing through our cargo facilities.

Our parent company, MAG, has implemented a range of measures to mitigate losses as much as possible, including pausing all non-essential expenditure, reducing costs wherever possible and making widespread use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with up to 70% of colleagues on furlough.

Because of the lower number of passengers, we’ve also scaled back the terminal’s hours of operation, temporarily closing two of the satellite departure gates and most of the onsite car parking and retail offerings.

Sadly, we have also had to reduce the size of the business and say goodbye to some valued colleagues, with MAG around a third smaller than it was before the pandemic hit. This is a similar story across many of the companies who base themselves at the airport, from airlines to ground handlers and retailers.

Adapting our airport

We have prioritised making Stansted COVID-19 safe. Our teams transformed the airport to meet Government guidelines, including more regular and intensified cleaning, installing sanitising stations and requiring staff and passengers to use face coverings.

COVID-19 signage was installed across the airport to highlight social distancing and redirect walkways, helping to protect staff and passengers.

I am very proud that we’ve been able to play a small but vitally important part in supporting the Government’s national testing programme by making available one of our main long-stay car parks.

We also worked closely with the Government to open a brand new COVID-19 passenger testing facility in the terminal.

This offers a full range of tests for both departing and arriving passengers in partnership with airport services and travel medical provider, Collinson.

Proud of our colleagues

It is during times of crisis that you see the best of people, and no more is that the case than across the Stansted Family.

Many have signed up for volunteering opportunities, especially for those colleagues on furlough.

Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve clocked up over 7,000 volunteering hours, with the majority being in direct response to helping local residents who are shielding or isolating.

Our Community Engagement team is currently working alongside the NHS to support the COVID vaccination programmes.

Stansted is promoting the national registration programmes through the Royal Voluntary Service and St John’s Ambulance Service alongside requests for support at local centres (particularly Council for Voluntary Services Uttlesford and the East of England Ambulance Service).

The last year has been like no other, but I am confident that with the right framework put forward by the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce and the continued success of the vaccination programme, we can look forward to better days ahead.

I cannot wait to welcome back our passengers through our doors again, and for the terminal to return to the buzzing, thriving hub we all know and love.

I am confident the airport has a bright and successful future and look forward to seeing Stansted play a central role in reuniting friends and families separated by the pandemic, and helping people get away for that well-deserved holiday.

Steve Griffiths - Managing Director London Stansted Airport