Al Titterington joined the Airport in 2006 as Operations Director to assist with the transition from the former RAF ST Mawgan to a civil airport, having previously gone through the same process with RAF Finningley/Doncaster Sheffield Airport. In 2010 he was named Managing Director and his time at the helm has certainly not been without its challenges, but with over 50% growth expected in passenger numbers this year, making the Airport the fastest growing in the UK, we catch up with Al on how the Airport has developed to where it is today and discuss what the future has in store for Cornwall Airport Newquay.
“When we became a civil airport at the end of 2008, the economy was plummeting into recession and aviation was to experience its worst decline in over 30 years. The timing was not good but you’ve just got to make the best of what you’ve got which is what we’ve always done.
“Air Southwest and BMI Baby went out of business and Ryanair withdrew services from Newquay all in quick succession which obviously was a huge blow to the Airport. The Airport went from over 400,000 passengers to a low point of 166,000 in 2012. However, it gave us the opportunity to redefine the Airport’s strategy, rebuild a more sustainable route network and develop the airport estate as focus for aerospace growth (Enterprise Zone) which would best serve Cornwall in the longer term.
“It’s interesting to understand that when the Airport was at its peak in terms of passenger numbers it was also losing the most money. It’s no secret that the airport relies on a subsidy from Cornwall Council but the amount of this subsidy has fallen year on year for the past six years, which is a trend that we expect to continue. Most of the routes that were operating in 2008-09 were simply not commercially sustainable to the airline or the Airport.
“Part of the challenge has been trying to maintain and regrow a business in the middle of the recession against the backdrop of local government austerity measures and a contracting number of airlines (and capacity). It is essential to identify routes where there is sufficient demand (both outbound and inbound) to make it a commercially viable route for an airline to operate. I then have to build a business case and develop a proposition that I can take to an airline which will convince them to operate whilst competing against 300+ airports across Europe all of whom are doing the same.
“It can be a lengthy process but it is now paying off!”
In the 2015/16 financial year the Airport carried just over 255,000 passengers, up from 220,000 the year before - the second consecutive year of double digit growth. Cornwall Airport Newquay is forecasting over 375,000 passengers this year, a massive 50% uplift in passenger numbers.
“We’re in a strong position going into the new summer season. The season started well for us, with passenger numbers up 15% from the previous year (Easter weekend), and hot on the heels of that we’ve had Virgin Atlantic announce a new codeshare agreement with Flybe and the start of the new Ryanair services from Cornwall. So yes, it does feel like there’s a lot of good news at the moment.
“The Airport Development Fee (ADF) also ceased with effect from Easter Sunday. Ryanair had been very public in linking their protest at the £5 departure fee with their decision to withdraw their previous Alicante service from Newquay back in 2010. As such the Council’s decision to remove this fee has been widely linked with the airlines return, but attracting Ryanair back to the Airport would alone not have made a good enough business case for the Council to support the withdrawal of the ADF.
“A lot of things had to come together to give the Council the confidence to make that decision. Flybe have introduced several new routes and replaced the 78 seat Dash 8 turboprop aircraft with the 118 seat Embraer 195 jet on both the London Gatwick and Manchester services, and Aer Lingus Regional have significantly increased frequency and capacity on their Dublin-Newquay route, which now operates year round. It was the combined growth of all these things coming together that made the case for the ADF to go. A lot of hard work went in to bringing it all together to make it happen.
There are a number of really strong airline brands (Flybe, Ryanair, Aer Lingus Regional, Eurowings and Skybus) now operating from Cornwall Airport Newquay and this summer the airport will serve 16 direct destinations with scheduled services, as well as the Verona charters operated by Newmarket holidays.
“Our domestic connectivity is now really strong, with Flybe operating 11 destinations around the UK from Cornwall this year. This domestic connectivity is obviously vital to the business community in Cornwall. Our London Gatwick market in particular is very strong, which is demonstrated by Flybe’s decision to increase the capacity on this year round, up to triple daily service, with the introduction of the new jet. Not only has it increased capacity but it’s also taken 10 minutes off the flying time and will improve reliability on the service. All good news for the business traveller.
“Getting a direct summer sun destination route back to Newquay has been a key objective for some time now. The demand was there but there are challenges on operating from Cornwall from an airline perspective. To get to Southern Spain or elsewhere in the Mediterranean, you’re talking about operating something the size of a 737-800 which has 189 seats. There just aren’t enough people in Cornwall to fill that capacity on a daily basis and so it becomes non-viable from an airline perspective to base such an aircraft here. Flying an aircraft down to Newquay from another UK base also prices itself out of the equation because the positioning costs, additional crewing requirements etc have to be passed on to the passengers and then the ticket pricing on the route is just not attractive enough to fill the aircraft.
“The best option for us is finding an airline with aircraft based in our target destinations. Ryanair have that and they have a brand that is well recognised in the UK and that’s why it’s such great news that we’ve managed to get them back to Cornwall.
“Getting Ryanair back to operate the Alicante service was the easy part. They knew the demand was there because they’d operated it successfully before and they’d always maintained “remove the ADF and we’ll come back” which they’ve done. When I first proposed Frankfurt-Hahn however, it was a different reaction. In fact, I think they thought I was mad! But I had the data and the evidence that there was a demand from German visitors for more routes to Cornwall and it didn’t take them long to agree once they’d looked into it.
The commercial development of the Airport site over the past few years has also played a key strategic part in how the airport has developed and grown. It’s usual for regional airports to have significant property portfolios on their land which generate revenue to support the passenger side of the business but although a significant land asset was inherited from the MoD when it became a civil airport it was all vacant, because previously they couldn’t develop any commercial offerings.
“We were awarded Enterprise Zone status in 2011 and the Aerohub Enterprise Zone at Cornwall Airport Newquay was born. It’s helped us attract new companies such as Apple Aviation., to add to the growing list of global companies e.g. AgustaWestland, British International Helicopters based at the Airport which we’d previously attracted.
“Growing the income the Airport derives from property as well as from other commercial aviation sources is crucial in supporting a more sustainable business.
In terms of future growth and development the Airport are now working on network developments for 2017 and beyond. This year the Airport will have two new routes operating throughout the winter months too, Leeds Bradford (which commences on 28 October) and Dublin, in addition to the London Gatwick, Manchester and Isles of Scilly flights which are already year round services.
“We’ve brought new airlines and routes to Cornwall for this summer and also managed to secure better year round connectivity on our network, which is another key part of our strategy. Now we’re working on next year and the one after that. Airline negotiations can take a long time and so we’re always having to work at least 18 months ahead.
“Our aim now is to build upon our recent growth. To secure the continuation of new services going into a second year and beyond, to build upon our existing airline partnerships with more destinations, extended seasons and frequency. Also to attract new airlines to operate from Newquay where there is the right fit and the commercials stack up in terms of route demand and aircraft size etc.
“There are undoubtedly more challenges ahead but we’ve got much more secure foundations in place now to build upon. Cornwall needs an Airport, our businesses need the connectivity that it brings and our economy needs the contribution it makes in GVA. We’ve got a strong team in place working hard to ensure that we continue to grow and develop the airport’s service offering for the good of Cornwall as a whole.”