Airport’s footfall plummets 90% – but bounce back ‘should be very, very quick’

The boss of Liverpool Airport has revealed that passengers numbers plummeted to a tenth of their usual 5m-strong levels last year due to the pandemic – but that the process of returning to that figure “should be very, very quick”.

John Irving, CEO of Liverpool John Lennon Airport, said he is confident that after announcing new routes even during lockdown such as to Rome and Stockholm, more are still to come “in the next six months”.

Mr Irving told the Liverpool Visitor Economy Panel that with Government restrictions easing, there is a lot of hope – despite the well-documented controversy and confusion over the international travel ‘traffic light’ system.

Speaking at the event on Thursday hosted by Liverpool BID Company and Marketing Liverpool, he said: “Everyone has suffered, and I think certainly in aviation, we probably suffered first and fastest and the lag to our recovery is going to be significantly decided by government policy.

“We don’t really have any guidelines on when normality comes back to travel and route development.

“The way I look at it is that last year for all of us was horrific.

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“For the airport, for about three or four years, we’ve had 5m passengers. Last year, we had half a million.

“So the impact on us financially has been incredibly large, with very limited support to keep us going from the Government.”

Mr Irving said that during the crisis, the airport had worked “really hard” to help maintain its people and skills – and that they are now “ready to go”.

He spoke positively about the organisation’s recovery, and said flights are now starting to come back, with capacity between the city and Belfast in particular currently around 80% of normal levels.

He said: “In the last three months, we’ve had 30 flights a week, normally we have 400 or 500.

“We had 46 last week, this week we had 60, next week we’ve got 90 – so you can see it’s starting to move forward, flights are coming back in.”

Mr Irving also commented on the Government’s traffic light system for international flights – which means anyone travelling to ‘amber’-list countries will be required to quarantine for 10 days.

First Faro flight from Liverpool John Lennon Airport since the governement lifted travel restrictions
Passengers on their way from Liverpool JLA to Faro, Portugal, after the Government lifted travel restrictions to the country earlier this month
(Image: Liverpool ECHO)

The travel advice was described last week as “confusing” by easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren.

Mr Irving said: “The red/ green/ amber confusion is going to impact how quickly we get back to anywhere near what we need from an airport and for the city region, to bring people in and obviously send people on holiday or back home, or out on business.

“Having ‘amber’ countries and the messaging from the government to say ‘while we’ve said you have to test three or four times, we’re still telling you not to go’ – that’s really unhelpful for us in terms of recovery.

“We’ve got flights to Spain, to Greece, all over the place that are flying out with six or seven people on it. and that’s not sustainable – but that’s where we are.”

Mr Irving was optimistic for the coming year, however, and said: “The positive thing for our airport is that our business model hasn’t really changed.

“We haven’t lost airlines, we haven’t really lost any capacity, if I’m honest. Although this year will be severely limited, the airlines that we had before Covid are still here, still strong, still growing.

“We’ve announced new routes even in the downturns, and we’ve actually got a lot more capacity, hopefully Covid restrictions allowing, coming in next year.”

That means the recovery back to that 5m pre-pandemic figure should be “very, very quick”, Mr Irving said, adding: “That’s really positive – it will give us opportunities that we’ve never had before to bring in new destinations and probably new airlines over time.

“Everyone’s now looking at their business models and, ours works.

“We’ve just announced Stockholm, Rome, and we’ll probably announce more in the next six months if I’m honest.”

Business Live – North West