30-Second Interview – Howard Ebison, Commercial Director, East Midlands Airport
Having recently joined the team at East Midlands prior to Routes Europe in Belfast in April from MAG’s US venture, Howard Ebison, East Midlands’ Commercial Director, has had the summer in his new post to decide which network gaps need filling, as well as buidling a new Aviation Development Team. anna.aero’s Editor Marc Watkins met up with the former candidate on the BBC TV show The Apprentice (the US version featured now President Trump) to discuss these issues as well as his preferences for sausage or bacon sandwiches in the mornings!
anna.aero: What have been East Midlands’ most notable recent new routes?
Howard Ebison: “We have had more than 10 new services start this year at East Midlands with the likes of Ryanair, Jet2.com and Flybe, but the most significant from my perspective were the launch of services to Iceland with Thomson Airways – a new country market for us – and one that will be expanding again this coming winter with flights to Akuyeri, as well as Jet2.com’s flights to Split. We have a very comfortable relationship with our existing partners and this means that we have very open and frank discussions with them on the destinations that we would like service to.”
aa: What are your next targets for route development?
HE: “Definitely the big European hubs are the top of our target list. We have flights to Dublin, Amsterdam and Brussels already and currently we are working out how we get codeshare connectivity to the likes of Frankfurt, Munich and Paris CDG.”
aa: Can we expect any long-haul routes in the future?
HE: “In the short-term the plan is to continue to grow our long-haul charter services with existing partners. Looking further out, any improved connectivity we gain to European hubs will generate data to help us build the business case for long-haul scheduled services. Jet2.com does also offer seasonal shopping trips to New York in November each year. At the same time as keeping our product offer interesting to our local travellers, these one-off flights to New York also yields us valuable business case data. Additionally, given our multi-cultural catchment area, the ISC is a region that is high up on our aspiration list.”
aa: What is your overall development strategy?
HE: “Firstly growth with our existing partners, helping both sides to have a stronger presence in the market. We feel that in particular there are unserved inbound flying opportunities with some of them. Secondly, as I mentioned before our strategy is to improve codeshare hub connectivity, with existing or new partners. The last segment of our plan falls into the longer term, with point-to-point long-haul services on the agenda.”
aa: Do you have the right team in place to make this happen?
HE: “From the first week in September – yes! Andy Pelham is joining us as Head of Aviation Development from our sister airport in Manchester. Andy has strong relationships with our existing and potential partners, as well as a proven track record in the industry. Combine that with Conan Busby’s expanded role [as Aviation Development Manager] in the passenger area, as well as Heidi Barlow’s [Head of Marketing] marketing expertise, and I believe we have the perfect mix to drive the airport forward.”
aa: How important is cargo still for EMA?
HE: “Very important indeed. In some instances I often think of DHL before Ryanair – don’t tell them that!! A lot of recent developments in our cargo network have been as a result of the growing trend towards global e-commerce – and that is only going to increase in the future of course. For example, we have a cargo flight for Amazon that operates Monday to Saturday. In addition given our infrastructure and standing in UK air cargo industry, it is so easy for freight forwarders to work and thrive here.”
aa: What passenger routes are currently best performing for you?
HE: “In the main, load factors are above where we budgeted in 2017, so across the board our network is doing well. Having positive results like that certainly helps our conversations with airline partners.”
aa: Your passenger numbers continue to grow; is this trend sustainable?
HE: “Last year East Midlands’ traffic grew by over 200k despite having runway closures over seven weekends. So far in FY2017 our passenger number are 3% up year-on-year. While we will always take positive figures over negative ones, we feel there is definitely room for further improvement, especially when looking at growth across the rest of the UK’s airports, so yes this growth is absolutely sustainable in what remains a very competitive trading environment.”
aa: You have an mix of leisure, LCCs and ‘legacy’ carriers – is it your policy to continue to focus on attracting more routes from all three sectors?
HE: “We know we are a really good low-cost and leisure airport, so of course we want to play to those strengths. Getting better hub access is not an ‘either, or’ scenario for us, that can happen at the same time as maintaining traffic from the previously mentioned market segments. Ultimately, our future growth plans will allow us to handle more based aircraft, whichever sector they come from.”
aa: Bacon buttie or sausage sarnie?
HE: “Bacon buttie – easy! Just one of those things. Don’t even need to think about it. With ketchup as well [at this point things turned nasty, the interview was quickly terminated as Watkins prefers a sausage sarnie with brown sauce].”