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Interview with Mr. Robert Sinclair, Bristol Airport

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Mr. Robert Sinclair is Chief Executive Officer of Bristol Airport.

“It is important that the role of major regional airports is not overlooked following the UK Government’s decision to support a third runway at Heathrow”.

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Bristol Airport has recently opened a new security search area as part of a £24m extension. You are continuously improving passenger experience. What can you tell us about this recent development?

Completion of the west terminal extension brings investment at Bristol Airport to more than £150 million since 2010. The 9,000 square metre extension houses a state-of-the-art security search area comprising 12 security lanes – including a dedicated Fast Track channel. A new pre-boarding preparation area provides space for passengers to get their belongings ready for screening, and an automated tray return system with extended conveyor belts streamlines the process through metal detectors, x-rays and security scanners where required. All of this takes place against the backdrop of a 14 metre long digital wall which features a mix of information on overseas destinations and short films showcasing inspirational journeys made by local people. The development also includes an enlarged baggage reclaim area, customs facilities, and meet and greet area, enhancing the experience for arriving passengers as well.

It is no coincidence that our customer satisfaction ratings have soared since the newInterview security search area came into operation. In the third quarter of 2016, Bristol Airport was ranked number one in the UK for overall passenger satisfaction by the global benchmarking programme, ASQ. By actively using ASQ data to identify key influencers for both leisure and business passengers, we have been able to raise the bar for customer satisfaction in our new facilities. At the same time as speeding up essential processes like security, we have injected a strong sense of regional identity throughout the design which has helped to bring the new facilities to life.  

 

The implementation of the latest technologies at airports allows customer standards to be raised. What challenges is Bristol Airport facing in this regard?

Airlines and customers are increasingly looking to automate processes, so our challenge is to enable this change without losing the human touch which can positively differentiate a regional airport such as Bristol. Technology also gives us the ability to better understand how our passengers navigate through our terminal, identifying pinch-points and potential opportunities for new products and services. It can also drive innovation in processes and working practices – for example, enabling security screening to take place in a remote location where distractions to agents are reduced. Beyond the airport, there is a huge opportunity to improve the efficiency of airspace which, in the UK, is still operating on a system designed in the 1960s.

 

The Bristol International Airport Master Plan 2006-2030 addresses future growth. The current situation of this plan is…

The 2006 Master Plan provided the framework from which we achieved permission to develop and enhance facilities required to serve up to 10 million passengers per annum. This comprehensive plan comprises 30 separate component parts terminal extensions, additional aircraft stands, and an on-site hotel. Since 2011 we have been developing these different elements in line with growing customer demand and most of the key infrastructure is now in place. If the airport is to meet growing demand for air travel in the future, we will need to turn our attention to transport infrastructure beyond our boundary – in particular, the local road network. We support plans to develop a multi-modal transport corridor between the city of Bristol and the Airport – but we need help from the UK government to make this happen.

 

One of the objectives is to be the UK’s most sustainable regional airport. What kind of actions have been taken to reduce environmental impact?

Development of the Airport is accompanied by a comprehensive package of controls, monitoring and mitigation across a range of environmental impacts, including noise, air quality and biodiversity. We have also achieved Airport Carbon Accreditation under the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe scheme, recognising our efforts to map the carbon output of the business and our commitment to reducing its impact. The next challenge is to move towards carbon neutrality.

 

Charter carriers at Bristol Airport influence the most popular destinations. These are mainly in Spain and Canary Islands. Is this a segment expected to grow a lot?

Many predicted the demise of the charter sector as a result of the low-cost revolution. While there have been some casualties, the major operators remain strong and continue to offer an attractive proposition to their target markets. At Bristol we are lucky to have based operations with both of the ‘big two’ in the UK – Thomson and Thomas Cook – and the former will be operating long-haul flights from May 2017 after a gap of several years. The 787 Dreamliner is a game-changer for us because it brings more exotic long-haul destinations into play, alongside traditional favourites such as Spain and the Canaries.

 

Bristol Airport has experienced rapid change in recent years. Where do you see future growth coming from?

Bristol is the only top ten UK airport to experience growth every year since 2009. Around 7.5 million passengers passed through our terminal in 2016 and we expect to touch the 8 million mark in 2017. But despite this, analysis shows that another 7 million passengers from our catchment area are flying from London airports every year – so there is plenty more we can do. That said, the UK aviation market is incredibly competitive, with more than 50 airports fighting for market share. Better transport links would effectively enlarge our catchment area, which is why we are so focused on improving surface access to Bristol Airport.

 

Bristol Airport is calling for improvements to road and rail links to the main airport serving the South West and South Wales. Once this has been achieved, will you be ready to play an important role in solving the UK’s airport capacity?

It is important that the role of major regional airports, like Bristol, is not overlooked following the UK Government’s decision to support a third runway at Heathrow. Most passengers flying into and out of the UK use airports other than Heathrow, and the benefits of increased connectivity, inbound tourism and more jobs should be spread across the whole country, not just concentrated in London.

The solution to capacity constraints in London has dominated the UK aviation agenda for decades yet, even with Government support, a third runway at Heathrow remains many years away. Better use of existing capacity must be a priority in the meantime. Simply funnelling passengers from all over the UK into Heathrow is not a comprehensive or sustainable transport strategy. More needs to be done to improve surface access to regional airports which can meet demand closer to where it arises, reducing journey times for travellers and encouraging public transport use in the process.

 

 

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