Manchester airport guide

25 May 2011 by BusinessTraveller
The following is an extract from our comprehensive new online guide to Manchester airport. To download the guide in full, complete with details of who flies from where, lounges, hotels, parking options, dining and shopping options and terminal maps, click here.

North Star

Jenny Southan reports on the growth plans of the forward-thinking northern airport

Since its inception in the thirties, Manchester airport has grown symbiotically with its city, spurring investment and encouraging businesses to set up shop in the north but also acting as a gateway to the world, creating a growing stream of passengers in and out. In time, as more people moved to the city, so the volume of passengers increased, creating a need for expansion that hasn’t stopped since.

“In the early seventies there was a small Chinese population in the centre of Manchester and then suddenly there was direct air service to China and the Chinese population boomed – Manchester is small enough that you can track certain sections of the city in correspondence with what’s going on at the airport,” says Russell Craig, head of external communications at Manchester airport.

Nowadays, the three-terminal facility is ranked the UK’s fourth-busiest in terms of passenger numbers (about 22 million a year). It is the only domestic airport other than Heathrow to have two runways, and was the world’s first regional airport to accommodate the A380.

In a way, this is no surprise, as Manchester has been known for embracing the future more quickly than most – forging the way during the Industrial Revolution to become a hub for textile manufacturing, opening the world’s first steam passenger railway station in 1830, and later reinventing itself as a cultural capital towards the end of the 20th century.

Andrew Harrison, managing director of Manchester airport, says: “The airport has been a key part of the development of the north. When we started out we were very small but since then we have been through multiple phases of growth, and I think that has been driven by the prosperity of the city. We have also always been separate enough from London to have a strong, differentiated catchment area.”

Located about 14km southwest of Manchester city centre, the airport is easily accessible by public transport, and provides travellers in a 200km radius with a convenient alternative to departing from London, with more than 60 carriers serving over 190 destinations in Europe, the Middle East, the US and Asia.

All this is no doubt contributing to Manchester being one of the fastest-growing cities economically in the UK, with Media City in Salford Quays (where much of the BBC is relocating), Sportscity (claimed to host the largest concentration of sporting venues in Europe), science and industry being the key drivers.

Boosting traffic

In addition, Airport City, which is expected to create 7,000 new jobs and attract businesses in sectors such as hospitality, freight, research, health and logistics, will become one of the first of the government’s new Enterprise Zones, and work is set to start on it next year. Harrison says: “Our job as an airport is to meet those connectivity demands to enable the region to grow. Equally, the job of the region is to bring businesses in, and that extra traffic will mean our routes are sustainable.”

He adds: “What we are looking to do is continue to increase passenger numbers, and we think the real growth will be in business traffic. At the moment it is about 20 per cent [of total traffic] but what we have seen over the past year is that although it has been tough, with the ash cloud and so on, business traffic has still gone up by 6 per cent out of Manchester, which is pretty strong.”

Manchester airport officially opened in 1938 and, although it expanded considerably after the Second World War, with the first transatlantic flight (to New York) taking place in 1953, the second terminal and integrated railway station didn’t open until 1993. The second runway was unveiled eight years later, in 2001, after a £172 million investment.

So what’s been happening on the ground in more recent times? Airport operator Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which also owns East Midlands, Bournemouth and Humberside airports, has overseen significant changes. An £80 million overhaul of Terminals 1 and 2 was completed last year (see “Northern heights”, businesstraveller.com/archive/2010/march-2010 for more details), and at the end of April, the final stages of the £2 million Terminal 3 revamp were unveiled. These include new flight information screens, clearer signage and four new shops – Dixons Travel, Rolling Luggage, Swatch and Tie Rack. A new restaurant, Trattoria Milano, has also opened on the upper level.

The terminal changes were made after extensive research was carried out on people’s experiences of travelling through the airport. Harrison says: “We found that people got stressed when they arrived in our car parks, when they got into the check-in hall and at security. They also got confused by landside retail, with many wondering if that was all the shopping there was. So the biggest thing we did was to take away landside retail and bring check-in and security back-to-back to try to get these out of the way as quickly as possible, so passengers could then relax once airside.”

Since these improvements, Harrison says follow-up studies have shown that “customer satisfaction has gone through the roof”. He adds: “With security we constantly innovated by trying to make it faster, simpler and less intrusive, which is where we have pushed ahead with technology such as body scanners.” The airport now has more than ten Rapiscan “backscatter” scanners in place across the three terminals.

The masterplan

In terms of infrastructure, MAG is constructing a new 60-metre-tall control tower to replace the current 40-year-old one, which is to be completed within 18 months. It is also investing £20 million in upgrading one of the runways, and another £20 million on security equipment for hold baggage screening.

Harrison says:”Our masterplan extends to 2030 – we have three terminals and we want to create two larger ones so I think over the next ten years, our focus will be on joining Terminals 1 and 3, because that makes geographic sense and gives more opportunity to develop parking space around them.” By 2015, the airport could be handling some 38 million passengers a year, but this could rise to 50 million by 2030.

In September last year, Manchester got its first A380 flights when Emirates replaced one of its two daily services to Dubai with the superjumbo. This milestone heralded a new phase for the airport, which is now seeing more Gulf carriers turning their attention to the city. Emirates was set to add a third daily flight to its Manchester-Dubai schedule last month, and on May 31, Qatar Airways was expected to end its twice-daily flights from Gatwick to Doha, instead launching a second daily service from Manchester.

Harrison says: “Only Paris CDG, Heathrow and Manchester have carriers flying more than once a day to Qatar so that is a great signifier for Manchester.” Etihad will also go double-daily from Manchester to Abu Dhabi in August. “Middle Eastern carriers are really helping to increase capacity,” Harrison says.

Direct action

Why are the Gulf carriers so keen on the northern airport? Harrison says: “People in Manchester and from the region want to fly direct. People who wanted to fly with the flag carrier [BA] have had to fly down to London to connect and there has been an element of stubbornness in doing that because in the northwest people want to be able to fly from their local airport – they want to get back at a time that is reasonable, and don’t want to do this via London or other short-haul routes. They have therefore been looking at other airlines to see how they can fill that gap. The Gulf carriers have a great product and a regional strategy.”

He adds: “The good news is that British Airways and American Airlines have now completed their joint business agreement so AA transatlantic flights from Manchester are now effectively BA flights, and our finding is that businesses and individuals will start to recognise that. Having had a hiatus of about four years where BA hasn’t flown internationally out of Manchester, it is now back, although, ironically, [through codesharing] with AA.”

Finnair is another example of how Manchester is opening up the region to places further afield. It flies via Helsinki (which takes about two hours 40 minutes) to cities such as Hong Kong (nine hours 45 minutes) and Seoul (eight hours 45 minutes), with connection times of as little as 30 minutes. Consequently, other than flying direct (Singapore Airlines is the only carrier to offer nonstop services from the airport to Asia), travellers from Manchester benefit from a more convenient, and often cheaper, alternative to flying via London (19 hours 25 minutes at best to Seoul via Hong Kong with BA).

The arrival of the B787 would also give Manchester a way of encouraging airlines to offer direct international services out of the northern city – this is because the Dreamliner has fewer seats on board and is designed for economical point-to-point routes, making otherwise costly direct routings more financially viable as it is easier to fill the plane.

So in the future we may, for example, see All Nippon Airways (ANA) using the B787 direct to Tokyo (at the moment there are no carriers operating direct flights to the Japanese capital), which would open up many connection possibilities for this part of the world. ANA will be the first airline in the world to take delivery of the Dreamliner and, providing there are no more delays, is expecting to launch it in the autumn.

North and south

Does all this mean that one day Manchester could become a global hub? Harrison says: “I think we are never going to compete with Heathrow because the UK can only have one global hub. But, that said, we are an airport that has spare capacity. We are the only airport in the UK other than Heathrow with two runways and we know that the southeast is constrained from a capacity point of view, and our catchment area and London’s are very similar in size – within two hours’ drive time we have 24 million people and London has 25 million. What’s more, the catchment areas don’t really overlap.”

He concludes: “There is the possibility of having a north-south strategy and we could see ourselves as a connecting point for various aligned airlines. However, I think it would be stretching it to say we have aspirations of becoming a hub. We have 23 connecting points across the UK and Ireland, and rail connectivity was one of the reasons why Singapore Airlines and Qatar made the decisions they did, as they see this north-south strategy working.”

Visit manchesterairport.co.uk

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