Q&A: John Irving, CEO Liverpool John Lennon Airport

10 Jan 2019


John Irving took over as CEO of Liverpool John Lennon Airport almost a year ago. St Helens Chamber talked to him about his first year at the helm and his plans for the future.

How have you found your first year at Liverpool John Lennon Airport and what have been the main highlights for you?

I have found the airport and the Liverpool City Region to be in a very good shape and I’ve joined at a very good time. We have just had our best summer since 2011 in terms of passenger numbers, which is a really good sign for growth. We have grown over a million passengers in the past five years.

Operationally, it’s been a very good year. For us one of the key things we look at is passenger experience and having security queues of under 10 minutes for 98% of our passengers throughout the year.

This is a really good standard that we look to maintain and we feel we offer the best customer passenger experience in the North West.

We have had good year with our airlines in respect of growth but also in terms of positive conversations for future growth.

I think one of the highlights other than those stats has been the Champions League Final that happened in May. It was good for Liverpool fans, but also for the airport. It was a really good thing to see in the first couple of months of me being here, in terms of how our teams and the people on the ground reacted to the volume of people. We doubled the capacity for a period of time very early in the morning when all the fans flew out. Our operational team performed very, very well and the people who volunteered were phenomenal.

You previously worked as a Finance Director for Newcastle United Football Club before your role as Chief Commercial Officer at Newcastle International Airport and now, CEO of Liverpool John Lennon. How have you found the switch from
football to aviation?

When I started at Newcastle FC one of the key things I wanted to do was be involved with a fast paced and exciting industry, and that’s what football is. You are dealing with a match on a weekly basis, you have lots and lots of customers, have big teams and do diverse jobs.

In my mind an airport ticked a lot of those boxes as you are doing something different every day, with lots of people using your facility through the year and having high expectations of you.

Airports and football clubs are two of the biggest brands in most cities so people always have an opinion about them and that’s what excites me. I moved from football into aviation for that buzz; I like something different happening every day and people having something to say on how they found their experience. I have found the two industries actually very similar, there are different customers, but with the day to day activities there are a lot of similarities. It has been a good transition and moving to Liverpool this year has been another transition meeting new people, getting new networks and understanding the differences between the two airports.

What impact do you think Brexit will have on aviation?

I think you could probably ask any business and they would have concerns over Brexit, because we just don’t know what’s really going to happen. It’s coming round the corner very quickly and we’re not sure how it’s going to impact the industry. In the last few months there has been some more clarity on what it means for aviation, or what it could mean. The risk of aircraft not being able to fly for a period of time seems to have been downplayed in the recent articles, which is good for us, because we want to make sure we maintain what we have now both with our flights and customers. As there are with all industries, there are lots of things Brexit could mean in terms of regulations.

Our hope is it remains as it does and passengers can transit in and out in the same way they do now, but we are still uncertain. We haven’t got a huge infrastructure planned around Brexit, I don’t think we’ll need one. I think the border will remain as it is, which is good, as those are things we can’t change quickly, but we’re still uncertain on what it means. We are starting to see an impact now of the uncertainty, people are starting to think of what could happen and planning in different ways. Currency also doesn’t help, with sterling rates still very weak.

I think the UK could see a real lack of growth because of that uncertainty and that’s a real shame for all airports, including us.

What facilities can business travellers make use of at the airport?

One of the things we look at is facilities for every type of passenger’s be it business, leisure, families, couples, singles, whatever age you are. I think we do a good job on the processing side, like I mentioned before 98% of our passengers go through security in 10 minutes, which is brilliant.

For business travellers specifically, they can use any of our car parks on site which are less than five minutes’ walk to the terminal. We have business fast-track parking, which is literally one minute walk away, which is great if you’re on business and time is very critical.

The security process is brilliant. Our Aspire Lounge, which was developed in the summer, is great for business travellers.
I think there are a few things we need to do better for business travellers, for example our WiFi provision needs improving however the commercial facilities such as food and drink are now very good.

For a business traveller, if we have the route, then they know they can leave their meeting and be through the airport in 15 minutes from parking up to getting into the departure lounge and over 85% of our flights are on time, which is one of the best records in the UK.

What are the transport links to Liverpool John Lennon Airport?

We are well served in terms of public transport and bus links to the airport. Fundamentally, there are two areas that I feel would change not just for the benefit of the airport, but the city region.

One is the road network around the region which is important to try and improve, and the second, which is much longer term but the most ideal scenario for us as an airport, is to have a direct rail link which many other airports do. We have Liverpool South Parkway up the road, which is a great facility but its 3 miles away. For us to be even better than we are today, those things need to happen and they are very important for people to be able to access the airport from all around the city region.

Where would you like to see Liverpool John Lennon Airport a few years down the line? What are your plans and visions and
future development of the airport?

This year we will reach over five million passengers, for the first time in a long time which is a really good marker. My aspiration is to get to six million in the next five years, which in reality means we need to bring in more routes and more destinations. One of the challenges we face is finding the right routes that will work for the people of the city region and that’s important and will help us reach the six million.

For me one of the key aspirations for business travellers is to get back what we call a scheduled hub operator, so people can fly out of Liverpool into one of the major European Hubs and allow them to connect to the rest of the world, be it Amsterdam, Frankfurt,

Dublin or Heathrow. That’s an aspiration in the short term really rather than the next few years because that’s a product we should have at Liverpool John Lennon.

In terms of developments, one of the things we are doing again this winter is looking at the arrivals process, both the infrastructure when you get off the aircraft and come into the building, but also the sense of welcome and place when you arrive at Liverpool.

There is a lot of work going on with infrastructure and building and also with branding and awareness, working with a few other partners to try give a sense of welcome and pride back into the arrivals process. I am very much looking forward to these developments.

Your Business and Liverpool John Lennon Airport – 26th February, 12.00 noon – 2.00 pm, At St Helens Chamber, FREE: Members Only
Join us for this informal lunch to hear the latest news about the airport and its plans for the future from LJLA’s Chief Executive Officer John Irving.
To book visit www.sthelenschamber.com/events or call 01744 742028