Face-to-Face: Spencer Birns, Cardiff Airport

Face-to-Face: Spencer Birns, Cardiff Airport

Spencer Birns, Head of Commercial Operations and Air Service Development at Cardiff Airport

How have airline routes from Cardiff Airport improved within recent years?

Airline routes and their success are mostly determined by economic trading conditions. Passenger numbers have dropped primarily due to bmibaby pulling out from their base in Wales which has had a big impact on routes to Spain and Portugal. There is now a big gap waiting to be filled on these markets from Cardiff to the popular holiday destinations of Malaga, Alicante and Faro.

Our domestic routes have been reasonably robust to Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North East of England. Flybe’s passenger numbers to Edinburgh are up over 20% and Manx2’s flights on the only Welsh domestic route to Anglesey have improved by over 25%.  These services primarily cater for the business and visiting friends and relatives (VFR) markets.

Aer Lingus is offering super connections to New York and Boston via their hub in Dublin which has the brilliant service of allowing you to clear US immigration whilst in transit at Dublin airport. This saves loads of time on the journey and is a much more attractive option than driving all the way to London to take a flight across the Atlantic.

KLM is also very important for Wales with its Delta and Air France partnership. KLM flies to Amsterdam three times a day from Cardiff and while a fifth of their customers are travelling to the Netherlands, about 50% travel onwards to other European destinations and 30% onto long-haul destinations.

The latest new route is from Vueling who are planning to start flights from their Barcelona hub to Cardiff in on the 27th of March 2012. We believe the service they offer, allowing for connections in Barcelona to other destinations on their network will be extremely attractive for passengers heading to Spain, Italy and Portugal. They are selling Cardiff – Barcelona return from £70 inclusive of taxes.

And the interestingly, a growing number of Welsh football fans are already telling us about their plans to now travel to watch live games in Barcelona

What is your future route development strategy? Are there any destinations or regions you are specifically targeting?

There are two elements to our strategy:

1: We work extensively with the Welsh Assembly Government, Visit Wales, The South Wales Chamber of commerce and Cardiff & Co, the city tourism authorities. The focus being on stimulating economic benefits for South Wales. A large part of this work is on attracting airlines to look at Wales as a market they can sell. Over 60% of the passengers on our scheduled flights at the moment are originating from outside of Wales. A good example of how this has worked is the Helvetic Airways service from Zurich. The Swiss Franc vs the Pound is strong and cost of living in Wales is far cheaper than London, making Cardiff an attractive shopping and entertainment destination for these customers. This coupled with the rise of Swansea City into the premiership has helped to attract more of these customers to visit Wales.

We are also actively working on projects to cater for air services linking Wales to the USA and Middle East, primarily due to strong foreign investment activities and business in Wales currently seeing a jump in export trade with the UAE and North America. A hub like Dubai would also help in our desire to enable customers from destinations in India, China and South East Asia to get better access to Wales. Again primarily due to ongoing investment and export activities taking place with Welsh companies in these areas.

2: The other element of our strategic work is now refocussing heavily on the outbound leisure markets from Wales.  The gaps left by bmibaby where over 600,000 passengers a year were on their flights to the Med, has left markets like Malaga and Alicante our biggest priority.

We have also been working on getting tour operators to re-introduce Orlando, the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico again from Wales. Historically these markets have all worked well from Cardiff. The cruise market in Wales is also very popular and we continue to work at encouraging the cruise lines to offer flights from Cardiff onto their ships.

Are there any plans to develop the airport’s terminals and facilities?

The airport does not need any more runways and we always want to enhance our terminal. There were plans to enhance these facilities back in 2008 but we held back due to change in the economy. Our priority is to get passenger traffic back above two million, (currently at 1.4 million) before we reconsider further expansion plans again for the terminal.

How does Cardiff Airport work with travel agents?

We have regular contact with travel agents through e-channels and direct discussion, but it has not always been effective. We have decided to team up with Travel Daily to bring the Thirsty Thursday concept to Wales in order to help stimulate our engagement with the travel trade in Wales. The first event will include representatives from some of our key airline partners, who are keen to work with travel agents.  Our primary marketing activities are actually to the consumers where we work jointly with our airline and tour operator partners to help specifically promote their capacity available from Cardiff.

Do you see a shift in demand for travel from local airports such as yourselves?

The beauty of small airports is that generally everything is much quicker, easier and more friendly. Passengers are treated like customers and not just another number passing through. Time spent waiting at security or immigration is normally shorter and our clients generally leave the facility happy with their overall travel experience. This is combined by the fact that the Welsh love to see success and are very patriotic, certainly helps consumer desire to want to travel from our airport. Our biggest challenge is getting the airlines to operate the services the consumers want. The travelling public in South Wales generally don’t want to travel to England to take a flight and are certainly very vocal about their desire to travel from our airport. This support is fantastic.

Gary Marshall
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Gary Marshall
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