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Luton Airport: the UK’s fast-expanding answer to London’s stretched capacity?

13 September 2016  •  Author(s): Roy Manuell

Sat having coffee in what used to be its baggage handling area, it is hard to escape the fact that London Luton Airport (LLA) remains busy despite the frantic construction work that defines its current day-to-day operation. Perhaps this is a testament to the UK’s fastest-growing major airport and its successful command over an ongoing £100m development project.

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In the first of a three part analysis of the development process featuring exclusive interviews with Capex Director Alejo Pérez Monsalvo, Head of Marketing and Strategic Affairs Oliver Jaycock and Marketing Executive Jackie Bowry, International Airport Review will explore the construction and expansion process itself in order to ascertain the reasons behind Luton’s explosive commercial and business growth, pinpointing the ways in which the development plan will cater for and improve upon this progress.

London Luton Airport has witnessed unforeseen growth over the past few years. In terms of passenger increase it has progressed from 9.7 million in 2013 to carrying 12.3 million in 2015 and is expected to welcome 18 million by 2020 and an estimated 17% of all new passengers using London airports between now and 2030.

Unprecedented growth

Development was clearly necessary with new airlines consistently interested in joining the 16 strong already in operation and there is no questioning the ambition of the project. While the expansion was to go ahead irrespective of the recent figures, the passenger growth, analysed in further detail in the second part of our study, has without doubt forced Luton Airport to bring forward its construction deadlines quite significantly.

“Good problem to have.”

International Airport Review asked Capex Director Alejo Pérez Monsalvo about the current state of progress on LLA’s infrastructural development.

“We have found that our original deadlines set in 2013 in accordance with Luton Borough Council have had to be reconsidered due to the unprecedented growth.”

Mr Monsalvo then uses the example of car parking to highlight the issue:

“The multi-storey car park we had planned to complete by 2023 has been brought forward and will now be finished by the end of October of this year because of rising passenger demand.

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“The only way to build was up.”

“It’s a good problem to have,” Alejo continues, explaining that the parking situation is indicative of a number of construction issues that essentially stem from passenger growth.

“We have had to be extremely flexible with the milestones set, in order to minimise the disruption to passengers during the construction period.”

It is clear as Marketing Executive Jackie Bowry leads me around the site that “everything is happening at the same time”: the work on a new pier, terminal expansion and a dual carriageway surrounding us as we stand before the current departure area.

“It’s all part of our aim at offering a seamless passenger experience.”

London Luton Airport has had no infrastructural development for over a decade and is “attempting to expand the same amount as took place during the 22 years prior to 2003 in just three years” Alejo explains, underlining the sheer ambition of the project.

I then ask the team to describe the thought-process behind the design for the expansion.

“We aim to combine the existing infrastructure with the new, sort of combining the ‘old terminal’ with a ‘new terminal’” or in other words “adding fat to the building.”

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In doing so, Luton Airport will maintaining its unique selling point as the “compact and convenient” London airport says Head of Marketing and Strategic Affairs Oliver Jaycock.

Aerially viewing the airport from atop the control tower, its easy to see just how simple it would be to walk from one end to the other even after the building work and if the passenger capacity claims add up with the expansion, then the inherently compact nature of the airport would certainly present an attractive prospect for passenger and airline alike in line with Luton’s targeted relevance as a major UK airport in the future.

This perhaps answers the question as to why has Luton grown in such a significant way since 2013? In short: the passenger process is extremely efficient – an airline’s dream.

“There is definitely a buzz around the airport.”

Transport link

Luton’s claim at being able to boast a 30 minute central London rail link by 2020 further aims to make passenger experience as seamless as possible, currently a crucial industry topic. The Mass Passenger Transit System (MPT) plans which will be submitted in Autumn will include a quarter hourly train to Luton parkway from London St. Pancras supported by a subsequent shuttle transit to the terminal.

“We are working in partnership with the airport owner and Luton Borough Council to deliver a state of the art Mass Passenger Transit system to provide a fast, frequent and efficient transfer service for Luton Parkway station to the terminal building.

“The aim is to make the transfer from National Rail to the proposed MPT as hassle-free as possible, and to reduce the journey from the station to the terminal to less than eight minutes.,” Oliver Jaycock explains. 

“It’s all part of our aim at offering a seamless passenger experience.”

The new rail link would certainly offer something radically attractive for Luton, often perceived as the distant, arguably irrelevant London Airport. In beating Stansted’s rail equivalent by a strong 20 minutes and that of Gatwick and Heathrow moreover, if the £200m train link were to be accepted as expected it could present a game-changing alternative for the everyday passenger.

“A very special moment for this airport.”

In terms of an ‘it’s-all-coming-together type effect’, “we couldn’t have written it better if we tried,” Oliver Jaycock beams.

The terminal building is set for completion in 2019, well ahead of the original deadline, the decision requiring external permission for a train link from St. Pancras due in 2018 and the transit shuttle link from Luton Parkway to the terminal in 2020.

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“There is definitely a buzz around the airport,” Jackie Bowry says as she finishes the tour of the development site. What is clear is that London Luton Airport seems to have a clear strategy behind the development and that overall progress has been positive.

What now remains to be seen and will be discussed in the subsequent articles is whether or not Luton Airport’s development will translate into what the Davies Report of 2015 called the “imperative” to expand London’s satellite airports in order to alleviate the burden of the UK’s exponential passenger growth on Gatwick and Heathrow’s already bending capacities.

Look out for next week’s second part in our focus on Luton’s expansion as we discuss why passenger growth has been so explosive and to what extent Luton can play a major role in the London network. 

One response to “Luton Airport: the UK’s fast-expanding answer to London’s stretched capacity?”

  1. This is a great future state vision ,but the current construction is a nightmare as road infrastructure left to last . Take a look most mornings from about 5.30 am and witness back up down past holiday in. Andonto dual carriageway . If you are in the airport and returning mist evenings the que from passort control backs up to gate access to planes including queing on staricases ,elderly and mothers with young children no help . Operationaly the airport has alot to learn ‘ a very poor airport with shocking customer experience would be a good review

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