Manchester Airport chief operating officer Andrew Harrison speaks of a bright future

PUBLISHED: 16:57 02 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:34 20 February 2013

Manchester Airport chief operating officer Andrew Harrison speaks of a bright future

Manchester Airport chief operating officer Andrew Harrison speaks of a bright future

After experiencing some turbulence, things are definitely taking off at Manchester Airport, says chief operating officer Andrew Harrison. WORDS BY MARTIN PILKINGTONZ

After four tough years business is taking off again at Manchester Airport. And Andrew Harrison, new chief operating officer of the Manchester Airports Group, has hopes and plans for continued dramatic growth in the coming years.

Mr Harrison is not new to the group: Ive been here seven years, I started as commercial director, looking after the retailers in the airport, with a view to leading the reconfiguration of the retail areas, then gradually I picked up other commercial matters. Eighteen months ago he became managing director, and in April was appointed COO of the group thus in charge of Humberside, Bournemouth and East Midlands airports too.

His career began with Marks & Spencer, having worked for them in Japan during his university studies: My degree was Japanese, at Sheffield University, so I am a bit of a linguist, its a passion.

After nine years at M&S he wanted to broaden his horizons. The diverse retail facilities at Manchester Airport offered that chance: It gave me insight into different operating models including catering and exchange. Id expected to maybe go back to retail at some point, but this industry gradually gets in your blood.

After declining passenger numbers since 2006, last year saw a significant rebound. Weve seen BA retreating to London over the last four or five years. They moved out of Manchester and the regions, which was a shame. One of our primary tasks has been to backfill that.

One strategy has been to work with non-UK airlines like Emirates, Etihad and several American carriers, plus Virgin, to provide direct flights from Manchester.

Another has been to embrace low-cost airlines: Before the last year or so we hadnt really been big in that area. Now weve seen Easyjet maintain growth, Jet2 grow dramatically, and Ryanair set up a base here.

Perhaps most significantly, though BA flights to the hub airports of Heathrow and Gatwick continue, Manchester has recently worked to develop itself in that direction: Working with Flybe we have created a UK hub, because Manchester it at the heart of the UK.

On certain routes weve seen 120 per cent increases in load factor. The Flybe hub is exciting a number of carriers in the Far East I cant talk specifics, but we are looking for connectivity to China and India. Same thing in terms of America - our people have been out in the USA a lot recently, looking to bolster the number of destinations we serve.

While he is far from complacent, Andrew is happy to talk up progress: We now have 13 months of growth in Manchester, we are dramatically growing market share and are outperforming national trends, and have overtaken Stansted in coming back to being the third airport in the UK.

He has a further reason for optimism: Theres no doubt theres a shortage of capacity in the South-East. From our point of view none of the options under discussion presently is perfect the third runway for Heathrow, Boris Island - building a whole new entity with all the financial and environmental problems that would bring - or linking Heathrow with another airport, say Gatwick also full by the way - or Northolt. In terms of capacity, government policy and immediate needs none ticks all three boxes.

Theres an interesting statistic that if you put all the spare capacity currently in the regions you have 15 runways worth outside the South-East. So the obvious argument is to use that meanwhile.

Its also important for people in the regions to be able to use their local airport to fly out, and its vital too as regards inward investment. So we look for opportunities for local airports, to be able to have an expanded range of services, and to have government policy to support that, as its capacity that is already there and is deliverable today.

Theres a different timescale for a project that could change the face of the airport, and have a huge impact on the regional economy Manchester Airport City, the development planned indeed begun with Etihad establishing their new call-centre on the land adjacent to the airports existing facilities:

It is broadly a 650 million project. We think theres opportunity for really good office space, manufacturing space, logistics, hotels etc to create a destination that because of its proximity to the airport has all the connectivity links to become an international
destination in its own right, and a touchdown zone for foreign businesses making sure they can work here by dipping a toe in the water on this site first.

Its a long term plan. Were looking at about 5 million square feet of space, over the next 15 years.

But its an opportunity to bring jobs for the local population too, in Wythenshawe but also in the wider population of Cheshire and South Manchester and beyond, and its a scheme that can grow at its own pace organically. But this kind of symbiotic relationship between the airport creating the connectivity and the airport city creating a business destination which then drives traffic to the airport works both ways.

The scheme, recently launched by Tatton MP George Osborne, already has Enterprise Zone status, bringing benefits in terms of business rate discounts, a simplified planning regime and super-fast broadband.
Add the pressure of such a massive and long-term project to an already demanding role and you might expect

Mr Harrison to be on edge, but he is obviously a contented man, looking forward to celebrating a landmark birthday on a holiday with his wife and three children. I have the best job in the world, I love what I do.

The print version of this article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Cheshire Life

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