Leeds Bradford Airport is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance under its new chief executive and industry veteran, David Laws. Bryce Wilcock reports.
Six months since taking the helm at Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA), David Laws, the airport’s new chief executive, couldn’t be happier with how life is going so far. Not only has he helped the Yorkshire hub break its annual passenger record, with four million people passing through its doors this year, but he is also spearheading a transformative redevelopment of the airport.
Prior to joining LBA, Laws spent a decade as chief executive of Newcastle Airport and has a whopping 39 years’ experience in the sector, working his way from trainee fireman all the way to the top.
Under his leadership, the North East airport secured a daily Emirates service connecting the region to the UAE and also landed direct services connecting Tyneside to New York, courtesy of United Airlines.
He told BQ: “After leaving Newcastle Airport I worked as a consultant for a year and then, unexpectedly, I received a phone call from the then owners of Leeds Bradford to become their chief executive.
“I met the owners and had a long talk about LBA, I did as much research as I could, and then I came to the conclusion that the third largest city in England needed an airport to match its ambitions.
“In my opinion, LBA is the last real golden nugget when it comes to untapped airports in the UK.
“Not only is Leeds the third largest city in the England, and the largest financial district outside of London, but we also have Bradford and Wakefield on our doorstep.
“The catchment area, and the opportunity to grow passenger numbers and introduce new routes here, is phenomenal.”
However, taking the helm at Leeds Bradford has also had its challenges. Not only has the airport changed owners since he joined, but Laws and his team have also had to deal with the unexpected collapse of Monarch Airlines.
“We’ve had a couple of little blips,” Laws continued, “we didn’t expect Monarch to go out of business, but the team here responded fantastically well and we had 75% of Monarchs flying covered within 36 hours.
“We’ve now covered the whole of the Monarch programme and Leeds is now on track to become one of the fastest growing airports in the UK.” He added: “When I took over here, the previous owners also informed me that they would be looking to sell the airport within three years and that it would probably be earlier, however I didn’t expect it to be done within three months.
“AMP, the company I’d worked for as a consultant after my time at Newcastle, were the company who took over the airport so luckily, I knew their track-record.
“They’ve operated in Melbourne for many years now, they’re launching in Tasmania and have owned 49% of NCL for five to six years, they’re a proven airport operator.
“Because they’ve been there and done it before, it makes decision making much easier to get over the line.”
Under Law’s leadership, Newcastle Airport also secured a series of top accolades, most notably for its punctuality, customer experience and security. Now, Laws and his team are hoping to replicate their decade of dominance at LBA, and believe the future is bright for the Yorkshire hub.
“The one thing I was extremely proud of at Newcastle was that I brought in the slogan, ‘it’s your airport’ and I want to replicate that here,” he added. “I want to fly the flag for the White Rose and give the people here an airport they can be proud of.
“We’ve already started drawing up plans to improve the infrastructure, landed new services such as the Flybe service to Dusseldorf, and are looking at expanding our three-times daily KLM service to Amsterdam.
“We’re proving to airlines that there’s real opportunity here at Leeds. I’m not going to deny that Manchester is a big machine, nobody’s trying to take Manchester on, but when you look at our catchment area and the affluence in Yorkshire, there’s no reason why we can’t grow and go onto better things.
“If you liken Manchester to Heathrow, then why can’t we be the Gatwick or Stansted? I’m excited, I have a team here who are excited, and we’re putting Leeds Bradford on the map for all of the right reasons.”