Aviation’s Post-Crisis Recovery Series: London Luton Airport
The coronavirus pandemic has afforded many airports the opportunity to expand their work within their local community. For International Airport Review’s exclusive series, the CEO of London Luton Airport (LTN), Alberto Martin, highlights LTN’s efforts in this field, and his hopes that this will continue, even as the airport looks to increase its passenger numbers as the aviation sector recovers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been completely unprecedented in its impact on the aviation industry. How has it impacted London Luton Airport?
While these restrictions have meant that operationally we are far quieter, it has given us an opportunity to expand our work with the local community”
As with all airports in the UK, coronavirus and the subsequent restrictions designed to minimise the spread of the virus has practically brought London Luton Airport (LTN) to a standstill. What was once a thriving transport interchange teaming with life now sits eerily quiet, patiently waiting to spring back into action. While these restrictions have meant that operationally we are far quieter, it has given us an opportunity to expand our work with the local community. Throughout the pandemic, the airport has hosted a National Health Service (NHS) testing centre, staff have volunteered with charities in the local community and, more recently, at vaccine centres. We even have one of our buses that was designed to shuttle people between car parks now being used in the local community as a mobile testing centre, all while the airport remains open to receive vital goods, such as personal protective equipment (PPE). I have been incredibly proud to see colleagues throw themselves into supporting the community.
What immediate changes did you have to make in response to the pandemic, and what did you find the hardest problem to tackle?
Whilst we were able to keep the number of compulsory redundancies to a minimum, it was an extremely challenging period”
Such a quick decline in passenger numbers meant that we had to make a rapid series of operational changes to the airport. This included everything from closing parts of the terminal to restricting spend on planned projects, all to protect the business. We also got on implementing a range of measures to keep staff and passengers safe, such as signage, floor markings, enhanced cleaning programmes and installing hand sanitiser and protection screens throughout the terminal. By far, the hardest decision was launching a consultation on redundancies. Whilst we were able to keep the number of compulsory redundancies to a minimum, it was an extremely challenging period, made all the more difficult given the value that we place in our airport family and their role in the airport’s success. Taking these measures was far from easy, but the devastating impact of coronavirus meant that we needed to take steps to secure the long-term future of the airport.
What initiatives are you focusing on during 2021 to rebuild passenger confidence?
In 2020, we were the first UK airport, and one of the first in the world, to be awarded certification by Airports Council International (ACI) in their Airport Health Accreditation Programme”
Throughout 2021, our focus will be on keeping our staff and passengers safe as travel begins to open up again. In 2020, we were the first UK airport, and one of the first in the world, to be awarded certification by Airports Council International (ACI) in their Airport Health Accreditation (AHA) Programme. The certification provides airports with an assessment of how well their health measures align with worldwide standards and industry best practices and confirms that Luton Airport is industry leading. We know that safety will be at the forefront of all passengers’ minds, so we will be looking at how else we can ensure that they feel safe as they pass through the airport.
What other exciting projects/developments are in the pipeline at London Luton Airport to help cope with increased passenger numbers once air travel begins to pick-up again?
In 2021, we have also submitted a planning application to increase our annual passenger cap by an extra one million passengers, to 19 million”
For passengers, the most exciting development will be the introduction of an automated light rail system between the terminal and airport rail station, known as DART (Direct Air to Rail Transit). The new link will open in early 2022 and will connect with a new non-stop express rail service every half hour between the airport station and London St Pancras International Station. This means that passengers can now reach us from Central London in around 30 minutes and is one of the ways in which we’re encouraging more passengers to travel to the airport by public transport.
In 2021, we have also submitted a planning application to increase our annual passenger cap by an extra one million passengers, to 19 million. The change will not require any physical changes, but will enable us to make the best use of the terminal building and ensure that we are able to drive sustainable growth once travel restrictions are lifted. This will put the airport in a strong position to respond to the demand for travel when it comes and to continue to contribute to the national and local economy through the jobs that we create and the supply chain that we support.
Are there any initiatives that you have implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic that you will permanently integrate into your airport’s strategy, even once the crisis has passed?
The pandemic will also leave us considering how we can improve the way in which we operate in the long term”
The pandemic has given us the opportunity to broaden the support that we provide to the local community. As I mentioned earlier, we have offered use of the airport and its equipment to the NHS and local authorities, and colleagues have been tireless in their volunteering too, so I think that this greater level of community support is something that is here to stay. Like every other business, the pandemic will also leave us considering how we can improve the way in which we operate in the long term, be that the adoption of new technologies to providing more flexible ways of working that drive productivity.
What business activity are you forecasting for London Luton Airport/ what is your business outlook?
We anticipate a level of pent-up demand as people seek to reconnect with friends, families and places abroad and businesses look to forge new connections overseas”
In the long term, our outlook is positive. We have submitted our application to have our passenger cap raised to 19 million per annum to accommodate the demand for travel when it comes. This will ensure that the airport is well-placed to contribute to the economic recovery of the area, whilst taking seriously our obligation to minimise any adverse impacts. We anticipate a level of pent-up demand as people seek to reconnect with friends, families and places abroad and businesses look to forge new connections overseas, which in turn will lead to higher passenger numbers overall. Of course, getting to this level will take some time, but I fully believe that aviation will continue making an important contribution to the UK economy, as it did before the pandemic.
Alberto Martin has been London Luton Airport’s CEO since 2018, prior to which he was the airport’s Planning and Investment Director. As CEO, he has the led the airport through the final stages of a £160 million development programme prior to the pandemic.