THERE are few places on earth with more to offer than Yorkshire. It is why tourists visit en masse, students compete for a chance to be educated here and large businesses – like Asda, Channel 4 and First Direct – choose to site their headquarters in the county.
The engine of this strong local economy will always be its people, but we also rely on good connections to the rest of the world. And a key part of that infrastructure for the last 55 years has been Leeds Bradford Airport – currently the UK’s 15th largest airport, behind Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool in the North of England.
Last year, Leeds Bradford served 4.1 million passengers. More than seven million people live within a one-hour drive and increasingly demand a well-run, modern, international hub for their travel needs.
The importance of Yorkshire and its vibrant and growing economy to the Northern Powerhouse means that the LBA has to modernise to meet the needs of its customers, and equally important, adapt to meet new standards in sustainability and customer service.
That is why the newly announced upgrade to Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) is so exciting. Not only will it create a more sustainable airport, but one that can provide the foundations of a prosperous future.
This won’t mean creating an airport that’s any bigger than the plans for the airport that were approved by the city council a year ago. On the contrary, the new building will have a smaller footprint while accommodating the same number of passengers projected for 2030. But it will be better, a lot better.
Last February when I became chairman of LBA, the airport was preparing to make extensive improvements to the current building at great cost. But wisdom suggests always looking before you leap. And it was only after scrutinising these plans that the new team and I realised that there was a better way forward than attempting to convert a 1960s monolith that is past its sell-by date.
Instead, the sensible solution was clear – to start at the beginning and create a new, state-of-the-art terminal that could vastly improve the passenger experience, satisfy future demands, and fit out the airport with multiple sustainable upgrades, from noise reduction to promoting electric vehicles.
Our new plans will accomplish a positive result, for the same number of previously proposed passengers, but in a much better, more sustainable way, and without the addition or extension of the present runway.
We will be upgrading to a new building that is cleaner, less energy intensive and among the most environmentally efficient of its kind in the world. Passengers will also step directly onboard their flights instead of being ferried or walking to every plane. The plan will also address many of the problems our passengers tell us they are concerned about, reducing queueing times, improving shopping and dining facilities, and providing better toilets and expanded seating areas.
We know that the future of aviation will necessarily be radically different. Flying is changing and aviation has already become the first sector to commit to stabilising its global emissions from 2020, and delivering a 50 per cent reduction by 2050 – with further commitments likely to follow in future. Across the world, the race is on to switch to more sustainable aircraft fuels, with new generations of hybrid-electric and fully electric planes expected in the future.
At LBA, we want to be among the first airports to makes these changes and will be incentivising our airline partners to accelerate the take up of newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft and aircraft that use more sustainable aviation fuel. But beginning our journey also starts on the ground and it will mean providing better support for electric cars, cleaner public transport, a lighter, less energy intense airport building, that can reduce the terminal’s own emissions to net-zero in three years’ time.
At LBA, we are also conscious of our responsibilities to the wider community, and a major factor in making this decision has also been to maintain the leading role of the airport in helping to deliver a dynamic and prosperous future for Yorkshire and its economy.
LBA currently contributes £475m to the local economy every year, employing around 2,500 people and supporting about 7,200 jobs. Our upgrade has the potential to significantly increase the number of jobs linked to the airport to 12,000.
This development will create new opportunities for the local community and further boost the economy. Above all, it will highlight Yorkshire’s importance in the Northern Powerhouse.
I sincerely hope that these plans not only win the support of the wider community but will also create an airport that Yorkshire can be justifiably proud of – and one that is truly in keeping with a 21st century landscape.
Andy Clarke is a former CEO of Asda and the chairman of Leeds Bradford Airport.