Flying High

December 1, 2015

As Newcastle International Airport reaches the end of its 80th year, chief executive David Laws talks to Alison Cowie about a fruitful anniversary and the rich history of the airport

Newcastle International airport marked becoming an octogenarian this year with a new £14.1 million airside departure lounge.

The airport also topped the Which? poll as the best large airport in the UK for the third year running – again beating the likes of Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. While easyJet passengers voted Newcastle as their favourite airport among the budget airline’s vast network.

From a financial perspective, Newcastle International Airport has continued to grow in its 80th year, with turnover up to £63 million.

An increase in passenger numbers (2.5 per cent) has also re-established the airport as the second biggest in the North, behind Manchester.

Another significant step this year has been the launch of nonstop flights to New York.

United Airlines operated five flights a week from Newcastle to New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport, from May to September – achieving a seat factor of more than 75 per cent by the end of the period.

“To get our direct New York flight in our 80th year was very special,” David reflects.

“It’s great for the North East and great for business. Connectivity is vital for companies and Newark airport is a hub to more than 300 destinations in the US. We’ve also seen a lot of American business people using the flight, which supports inward investment into our region.”

The success of the route has led to United Airlines announcing its return to Tyneside next summer and an increase in its schedule to six flights a week between May 26 and September 6, 2016.

David and his team will be working hard to achieve a seat factor of at least 80 per cent next year, with the long-term aim of securing a year-round transatlantic service.

Other carriers have made gains at Newcastle in 2015, too, with both Emirates and KLM seeing their largest ever passenger numbers in August.

This year has also seen the airport raise more than £50,000 for both Sunderland AFC and Newcastle United Foundations (chosen after the action of both clubs following the Malaysian MH17 disaster that tragically killed two Newcastle United supporters).

The anniversary year recently culminated in a special dinner at the Hilton NewcastleGateshead. And the year was topped off by David being named North East Business Executive of the Year 2015.

David is very proud of what his team (which totals 3200 members of staff on site and 4600 across the region) has achieved in the airport’s 80th year.

Reaching such a landmark also gives the award-winning chief executive reason to look back on the history of the airport – which he joined in 1978.

It was Jimmy Denyer, the airport’s long-serving chief, who interviewed David for his first position as trainee fireman.

As the current chief executive explains, he nearly blew it with Jimmy at the interview stage, when asked what his ambitions were.

“I said, ‘maybe I’ll sit in your chair one day’,” David recalls. “‘Not bloody yet, you wont!’ was Jimmy’s reply.”

Jimmy went on to become a big influence on David and his career, and the ambitious young trainee fireman achieved his ambition when he was appointed chief executive of the airport in 2007.

It’s hard for David to pinpoint a highlight from his 37 years at the airport but he has particularly fond memories of the £27 million terminal which was opened by then prime minister Tony Blair in 2000, and also of negotiating the Emirates contract alongside his colleague Chris Sanders – a route that “the North East people have

really got behind,” David is pleased to say.

Looking to next year and Newcastle International Airport is targeting 6 per growth. For David and his team, there is work to promote next year’s New York flights, as well as new routes announced from Jet2, Ryanair and Spanish budget airline Vueling.

All of this in addition to maintaining the popularity of the existing services at Newcastle – services which David is all too aware local businesses rely on: “There are businesses such as Hart Doors, for example, that have set up operations in Dubai on the back of Newcastle offering its daily Emirates Airways route.

“The staff and I feel a great responsibility to ensure these flights flourish, so that they stay in the region and the airport continues to serve the people who work and live here.”

David Law was recently named North East Business Executive of the Year 2015