Chief executive of Liverpool John Lennon Airport, John Irving, says regional airports such as Liverpool are currently operating at levels that are ‘not sustainable’. Tony McDonough reports
Some flights are taking off from Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) with as few as six passengers on board, the airport’s chief executive said on Friday.
Addressing a panel of Liverpool city region visitor economy leaders, John Irving said that UK regional airports such as Liverpool were operating at levels that currently “no sustainable” due to ongoing uncertainty over the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there is a clear roadmap out of lockdown and other restrictions for domestic businesses in the UK, the situation for airports is more complex, partly due to the fluctuating situations in other countries.
The UK Government has implemented a traffic light system for overseas travel. Since May 17 people have been able to travel freely to ‘green’ countries with the only requirement being a Government-approved COVID test before you go and when you return.
Anyone returning from an ‘amber’ country must quarantine at home and then have PCR tests on day two and day eight after their return. People returning from ‘red’ countries must quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days at their own expense as well as having the PCR tests.
2020 was devastating for the global aviation sector and, while the situation has improved significantly this year, much uncertainty remains. Pre-pandemic Liverpool Airport was handling 5m passengers a year. Current levels remain a long way behind that.
Addressing the Liverpool City Region Visitor Economy Panel, organised by the Liverpool BID Company, Mr Irving said: “The recovery in aviation will lie solely on the Government. We aren’t really on a roadmap like other businesses and sectors. We have no guidelines on when we will be back.
“We’ve worked really hard at maintaining people and maintaining skills. May 17 was the official restart of international travel, but that wasn’t really the case. We had 46 flights go out last week, but this is compared to hundreds last year.
“The information from the Government is really unhelpful. We have flights going out to some destinations with just six or seven people on them. It’s just not sustainable.”
In the couple of years leading up to the pandemic, Mr Irving had revealed ambitious plans that would aim to grow passenger numbers at Liverpool to 8m a year by 2030. He claimed this would push up GVA contribution to the city region by £625m and support 12,000 jobs.
However, with the global aviation sector now facing a long period of uncertainty it is unclear how feasible those plans remain. There is no guarantee the rapid growth in air travel pre-pandemic will ever return. The picture is further complicated by the push by Government’s towards a zero carbon future.
There have been some bright spots in recent months for Liverpool Airport. Ryanair and easyJet remain bullish about their prospects and, in the past six months, Ryanair has launched five new routes out of LJLA. Hungarian airline Wizz Air has announced a new route in May and, earlier this week, Loganair’s first fight to Derry took off.
Mr Irvine added: “The next announcement of the green list on Monday is most likely not going to be helpful. Yes we might have people going abroad, but we aren’t going to have many flights coming inbound for people to experience Liverpool.
“Airlines will have to adapt their business models. Here at Liverpool Airport, it means we have the opportunity to get involved in conversations that typically we wouldn’t be involved in. We will get routes and airlines we typically wouldn’t get.
“The days of having three flights to Abu Dhabi from Manchester are over. It’s just not going to happen.”