London Stansted – ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
Steve Griffiths, Managing Director, London Stansted Airport
The last 18 months have undoubtedly been the toughest the aviation industry has faced in its entire history, with traffic levels dropping to as low as 5% of usual volumes at the height of the pandemic.
It has been extremely difficult for all of us associated with London Stansted to witness our once thriving terminal nearly deserted on occasions, with many of our other facilities and services completely mothballed in the absence of passengers.
It was equally as devastating to see how quickly air travel returned on the continent to something much closer to “normal” while the UK remained stuck on the tarmac, despite the success of our vaccination programme and comparatively low infection rates in the most popular destinations for our passengers.
Prolonged, and in many cases unnecessary, restrictions on travel unquestionably held back our recovery, as passengers found themselves grappling with confusing guidance or requirements, and the associated cost of testing.
However, as restrictions gradually began to ease over the last few months, we saw more and more passengers return to the airport. Across the summer, although volumes remained depressed compared to 2019 levels, Stansted was the second busiest airport in the UK – up from our usual fourth place.
This put us in a relatively good place to build on this small but significant step, and following the latest changes to the Government’s travel restrictions announced last month, we are feeling a new sense of excitement and anticipation as we continue the journey back to how we remember the airport prior to the pandemic.
Bookings have surged on the back of the simplification of the traffic light system, and again after it was confirmed more destinations would move off the red list and the recent the switch away from expensive PCR to lateral flow tests on day two after arriving back in the UK.
These positive developments have enabled our airlines to plan schedules with increased confidence, and passengers now have clarity and certainty that the rules won’t change at the drop of a hat as they have done in the past.
One of the key foundations of Stansted’s success has always been the strength of our airline partners. This has really come to the fore during this period as carriers such as Ryanair and Jet2.com show how quickly they can adapt and respond to changes in passenger demand and travel behaviour.
Both airlines are now helping drive the recovery with more capacity and routes regularly being added to their schedules at Stansted as restrictions continue to ease and passengers make up for lost time by booking eagerly anticipated holidays or long-overdue visits to family and friends overseas.
This was reflected during the half-term holidays as we welcomed back many families who may previously have thought their only option was a staycation, but instead packed their bags and jetted off to their favourite holiday hotpots.
We hope this renewed confidence and excitement will act a springboard for bookings to continue to grow across the winter season – whether it be over the Christmas and New Year period, those finally heading back to the ski slopes of Europe or for those looking to escape the cold and grab some winter sun – and then on to what we anticipate will be a very busy summer season in 2022.
Looking ahead, as we continue to recover we can still go further, and so in the New Year we’ll be calling on the government to further simplify the travel system, so that international travel can really start to feel as it was before the pandemic.
It should also be noted our excitement is two-fold, because in the last few weeks we have been able to welcome back many of our colleagues who have spent time on furlough over the past 18 months or so. Being able to bring them back just at the time we start to see travel resume in earnest feels extra special, and they will all have a key role to play in driving our successful recovery and delivering great service for our passengers.
In addition, to keep pace with growth in passenger numbers, and to ensure we have sufficient resources in place as we build up to what will hopefully resemble a ‘normal’ summer next year, we are actively recruiting and training more specialist security officers to join existing colleagues.
One thing that has been, and will of course remain critical across the airport, is Covid-safety. We want passengers to be excited to be travelling again but feel safe at the same time.
Earlier this year, London Stansted became one of the first airports in the UK to receive CAA recognition for the measures implemented across the airport to make it Covid-secure as we prepared for the return of passengers. We implemented a range of safety measures including enhanced cleaning, mandatory face coverings, perspex screens and only permitting travelling passengers in the terminal, and we will continue to follow the latest guidance and advice to ensure we are taking sensible and appropriate steps to keep our passengers and colleagues as safe as possible.
As we emerge from the pandemic and recovery ramps up, sustainability will be a key theme for the entire industry. London Stansted has a long and proud track record for responsibly managed growth, and that will be no different in the post-Covid era.
MAG has recently released its latest Corporate Social Responsibility report, highlighting not only our great successes in this arena, but it also details our commitment to the green agenda for the future. This includes our pledge to achieve net zero as an airport by 2038, and playing our part as the UK aviation sector leads the world in setting out a clear and evidenced plan to achieve net zero by 2050, in line with the Government’s overall target.
As we work towards a greener future, high quality carbon offsetting is just one of the tools available to our industry. MAG has recently joined forces with CarbonClick, a leading carbon offsetting organisation, to enable passengers to calculate the emissions from their flight and purchase carbon credits to compensate for them, regardless of their airline or destination. It is something passengers were telling us they wanted, and we are delighted to give people the option to offset, as we continue to work with our industry and government on our net zero ambitions.
It’s been an incredibly difficult time for everyone, and it maybe next summer before we see all our airlines and destinations return - long-haul routes in particular will take time to recover - but we are hoping more routes will relaunch in the months ahead, ensuring we continue to provide the international connectivity that’s so vital to the east of England’s economy success.
I’d like to thank all our colleagues, passengers and airport partners for their commitment, support and understanding during the pandemic but, and as we build on the positive momentum we see today, I’m confident we are finally on the road to full recovery and together we will have a very bright future.