One-to-one with Stephen Gill, MD, Bournemouth Airport
Bournemouth Airport handled more than 690,000 passengers in 2017, a 3.9% increase on the previous year. The UK South Coast facility has seen several key changes in the last year, after it was acquired by Regional & City Airports in December 2017, with Stephen Gill appointed as the airport’s new Managing Director in October 2018. Gill has many years of experience in the airport industry having held senior management positions at Liverpool and, more recently serving as CEO of both Doncaster Sheffield and Durham Tees Valley. anna.aero’s Chief Analyst Nick Preston visited Bournemouth in December to meet the new MD and find out about his plans to maximise the untapped potential at his new airport.
anna.aero: It has been one year since Regional & City Airports completed its acquisition of Bournemouth Airport. How has the airport’s performance met expectations over this period? What are the group’s objectives for Bournemouth in the coming years?
Stephen Gill: “I think year one was always going to be a year of transition, but I am genuinely impressed with how warm the response has been, both from the region, the stakeholders, and particularly the interest from the airlines. This has led to announcements for a series of new routes which gives us some credible and tangible growth for the year ahead. This includes new routes from Ryanair, TUI Airways and Loganair, which is a new airline for Bournemouth. With these news services we are looking at about 20% growth in the year ahead, representing approximately 150,000 extra passengers, which is significant. The other major accomplishment in year one was welcoming GAMA Aviation, a renowned, global, business aviation MRO to Bournemouth. The results of their investment are already beginning to flow through into aviation activity. We have already seen two British Airways 747-400s arriving for maintenance in the new facility.
“Our business plan is to double passenger numbers within the first five years which I think is sensible and absolutely achievable. The catchment area has strong demographics and has been relatively untapped. If we provide the right services, I’m very confident the region will respond and use those services. In terms of the longer-term potential, if you think about the constraints within the UK and particularly the constraints within London, in the next 10 years, depending on which forecast you look at, they suggest that somehow, we need to accommodate an extra 40 to 60 million passengers within that London region. Heathrow’s third runway is not going to be open for business particularly quickly, most of the London airports are creaking, and we have an airport here with the infrastructure and capacity to help UK plc and serve this region effectively. Bournemouth can and will play an increasingly important role within the UK aviation industry. We have set sensible growth targets for the first five years, but I would hope that in the longer term, passenger numbers will exceed our initial expectations.”
aa: How might your previous experience at Peel Airports, including your role as CEO of Doncaster Sheffield and Durham Tees Valley airports, be valuable in your new position as MD at Bournemouth?
SG: “Hopefully I can bring many years of experience and expertise in a range of areas. I had 20 very enjoyable years at Peel. In that time, we designed, developed, managed bought and sold airports, so there was a wide exposure to pretty much everything in the airport industry. Liverpool, where I was based for the first 10 years or so, was for much of that period, the fastest growing airport in Europe. Doncaster Sheffield was the first full-service airport opened in the UK in over 50 years, so that was a major achievement. Doncaster at times in the last five years has been the fastest growing airport in the UK. I’ve been through a whole set of innovation, diversification and change management projects. With this level of experience and expertise, I’d like to think I’m bringing a decent skill set to RCA and to Bournemouth.
aa: There have been several new route announcements at Bournemouth since RCA’s acquisition, including Ryanair’s recently launched service to Paphos and new links to Prague and Dublin, due to commence in S19. You have also secured summer seasonal services to Jersey and Guernsey with Loganair, beginning in S19. Are you expecting to confirm any further new routes in the coming months?
SG: “Clearly, we’re delighted with the route development that we’ve got coming forward. We are still talking to airlines about additional activity for S19 and we’re very hopeful, but, it’s more likely that the bulk of growth will come in 2020.”
aa: What do you consider to be Bournemouth’s key catchment area and what is the composition of this catchment?
SG: “I’ve seen airports and airlines talk about 30-minute and 60-minute drive time catchments, but actually I think what we have here is something very different. Bournemouth Airport is ideally located to serve both the significant population along the south coast, as well as the M3 corridor towards London. This catchment area comprises around 4.5 million people with high levels of disposable income and is an area with strong economic indicators. Both factors are significant in driving demand for air travel. It’s incredible how far people are prepared to travel for the right reasons. If we get the right level of service, the right destinations, the right customer service, we’re confident we can draw from that catchment. Furthermore, there is significant inbound demand to this catchment area and as the London airports reach capacity, Bournemouth is the perfect alternative London gateway.”
aa: Bournemouth has seen several operators establish domestic and/or European hub links in recent years only to discontinue these routes. Why does Bournemouth seem to struggle to retain these links? Does RCA believe it can attract and maintain regular domestic links and a service to a major European hub?
SG: “Clearly we’re looking ahead. The past is the past. There are always 101 reasons why things haven’t worked previously. What we’re focussed on is building routes that are sensible, supportable and sustainable, working with the region and stakeholders to make sure they will support anything we look to develop. We are, therefore, targeting what we believe are the right airlines, with the right frequency of service.
“We absolutely believe that we can attract and maintain domestic and major European hub links. There is a strong base of evidence to support both claims. There are significant numbers of passengers from our core catchment using competing airports to get to key domestic destinations such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Newcastle and Manchester. There is also massive global demand to and from the Bournemouth catchment which could be funnelled through a well-located European hub such as Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt, where there would also be strong point-to-point markets. We currently have annual leakage of 1.5 million passengers to North America and 2.0 million eastbound to the Middle East, Far East and Australia. The success of our existing route network demonstrates that if a service is provided from Bournemouth, passengers will use it.”
aa: Does the airport’s lack of public transport links hamper its route development potential? Does RCA have any plans to improve bus services?
SG: “My experience shows that as airport services develop, public transport initiatives become easier to deliver. I’ve seen this at Liverpool and Doncaster, it’s a much easier conundrum to deal with as you get a bit bigger. Since we’re growing by 20% in the year ahead, I would hope to be having those discussions in a far more progressive way. Airports also need the support of their regions when developing public transport schemes.”
aa: Do you have a specific new route wish list for Bournemouth that you believe is achievable? Are there any certain destinations or markets you believe the local catchment is crying out for?
SG: “When RCA acquired Bournemouth, Amsterdam, Dublin and Paris were identified as the key missing international destinations. Clearly Dublin is starting with Ryanair next year and we’re working progressively trying to get those other two destinations as well. Outside of that, there is also strong demand for destinations such as Barcelona, Rome, Madrid and Berlin. Loganair recently announced services to Jersey and Guernsey for next summer, which will be our only domestic routes, despite significant numbers of passengers from our catchment using competing airports to travel to and from Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
“We know that getting a bigger foot in the market with low-cost traffic out of this region is the way want to go forward, that’s what we’re already doing. That means we’ve got to go after the large volume markets, which means passengers will start using this airport, because of the customer service, because of the choice, because the airlines can operate from here at any time they want to as a result of our spare runway capacity. They don’t need to go to Gatwick or Heathrow to get a flight to Palma or other Western Mediterranean trunk destinations. This strategy will raise awareness and change behaviour, so people start actively looking at where they can fly from. In addition, the local distribution with travel agents that exists in this region is extremely important, and we are progressing discussions with these agencies.”
aa: Is competition with nearby Southampton Airport a major factor in determining new route and airline targets? Do you believe there is room for both airports to offer the same routes or should you be aiming to serve different markets?
SG: “I think competition is generally good. It builds awareness. There are complimentary roles that the airports in this region can play. But this airport has a set of strengths which give us different opportunities and that’s what we are concentrating on: capacity, runway length, ambition and opportunity.”
aa: Are there any aspirations for Bournemouth to attract long-haul leisure routes? The airport currently supports a limited fly-cruise programme to the Caribbean during the winter months. Could this sort of operation be a viable for expansion in the future?
SG: “It’s absolutely on our list. Doncaster, where I have just come from, did exactly that with TUI. The catchment does contain significant long-haul demand and I see no reason why these services should not be supportable from this airport. While this possibility is on our radar, there are more pressing priorities and opportunities in the short term. As we gather scale, reputation and market awareness, I believe that long-haul services will form one of our natural development opportunities.”
aa: Bournemouth has a long history of non-passenger-related aeronautical activities: Cargo, maintenance, general and business aviation, etc. How important will these be in the future? Is there any potential to regain regular cargo services?
SG: “We have several objectives. The first is clearly to develop passenger activity. We have thriving general and business aviation, and MRO activities, but I think there’s room to grow that even further. That all helps with sustainability, credibility, awareness, skills and education. It really appeals to the Local Enterprise Partnership, which recognises Bournemouth Airport as one of its strategic priorities, already employing about 2,500 people across the whole airport site.
“At Doncaster, I helped build the cargo business from scratch. We have all the ingredients here to do the same thing, so I’m already out talking to cargo operators about the opportunity to develop here.
“It’s about maximising the synergies of the whole airport asset, and we are therefore developing an ambitious master plan for the airport and wider estate that will illustrate, stimulate and deliver continued growth.”