'This is a proper international airport' - Leeds Bradford Airport boss on plan for new terminal

This month marks a year since Hywel Rees was appointed Chief Executive of Leeds Bradford Airport. During that time he has unveiled ambitious plans to create a new terminal building as well as dealing with the biggest crisis facing the aviation industry in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. He speaks exclusively to the Yorkshire Evening Post about the proposals and the impact of coronavirus on the airport.

Leeds Bradford Aiport. Picture: Simon Hulme.

Ambitious plans were revealed earlier this year for a new multi-million-pound terminal building to boost passenger numbers and attract new routes in and out of Leeds Bradford Airport.

The proposals involve the demolition of its existing terminal building and replacing it with a brand new state-of-the-art facility that will cost as much as £150m.

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Planning chiefs are set to review the scheme, which if given the green light could see construction start this year with the new facility open in 2023.

But it is a planning application that has generated debate across the city - both in favour and against the proposals. Earlier this week members of Extinction Rebellion held a socially distant protest outside Leeds Civic Hall expressing concerns about the impact of the expansion on climate change.

But the airport’s chief executive Hywel Rees told the Yorkshire Evening Post that the current terminal is simply not “fit for modern purposes” and he aims to create a terminal building that “gives the confidence to invest in Leeds”.

He said: “I joined Leeds Bradford Airport 12 months ago. As a business we were operating out of a building constructed in 1965 and when I looked at my inbox and the type of complaints I received it became obvious that operating out of a building from the 1960s isn’t fit for modern purposes. Most airport terminal buildings are much more recent than that.

“You can’t cater for people with reduced mobility. You can’t fit modern power or heating systems.

“The level of service historically has not been good enough. We have made big strides in recent months to improve that.”

And he stressed that connectivity to the airport would be key in helping to ensure that the airport plays its part in the climate change debate by encouraging more people to ditch their cars.

Among the proposals are a new train station and Mr Rees said he would like to see a proper livered coach service from Leeds station to the terminal building.

The plans would not see any car parking spaces added to the site.

Mr Rees said: “I want to look at alternate ways to get people to the airport with things like improved buses, more coach services, railway links, car sharing incentives and to pay less for parking if they do share.

“Getting from Leeds Bradford Airport to Leeds City Centre isn’t as difficult as getting from Manchester Airport to Leeds City Centre.

“I want to show the airline community that Leeds is open for business and give the confidence to invest in Leeds.

“It’s also to tell the wider community that Leeds is here to serve them. This is a proper international airport. When this building opens in Spring 2023 we won’t be in lockdown anymore.

“We will be in the recovery phase. Infrastructure is a long-term business. Infrastructure shouldn’t be made on short term business.”

Documents reveal the airport’s economic impact in 2019 was estimated at £492m, supporting 9,140 jobs.

He also said that the new plans would help to boost connectivity across the wider city economy. He said for example international students coming to study at the universities in Leeds should be provided with a link to fly directly to the city.

Mr Rees said: “From a business perspective connectivity is key.

“We have nothing to Germany and we should absolutely have that. We want to attract business to operate and attract staff that businesses need from a proper transport infrastructure.”

Speaking about the environmental impact he said: “We can’t get away from the environmental side. It’s really important that we get this right. That is an area where airlines and the aviation industry isn’t as good at blowing its own trumpet.

“Leeds Bradford Airport has reduced CO2 emissions over five years by 50 per cent from its terminal and operations.”

And one of the biggest challenges facing the site is passengers travelling to airports in Manchester or London to get flights that aren’t served by Leeds - and most of those passengers are on the roads to get there.

“By attracting more passengers to fly from Leeds would mean a reduction in the number of road journeys made,” he added.

Mr Rees also said that due to changing technology aircrafts are also becoming cleaner.

He added: “The vision is I want a modern airport for Leeds Bradford Airport.

“A modern facility that’s the best it can be. I want the people of Leeds to really identify with their airport in a way people in Edinburgh identify with theirs.

“It should be an integral part of the city and the city should be proud of it.”

'We have had no passengers for six weeks'

Over the last six weeks there have been no passengers travelling out of Leeds Bradford Airport since the country went on lockdown as part of restrictions on movement due to the impact of coronavirus.

But Mr Rees told the Yorkshire Evening Post that despite having no passengers through the terminal he has been busier than ever to try and look at how to remobilise the airport once it is safe to do so.

He said: “We have had no passengers for about six weeks. I can tell you it’s unusual. I don’t think I have ever worked harder.

“We are working hard to plan for remobilisation. We are open to receive flights and positioning aircraft for turning or maintenance reasons for example.

“The aviation industry in general is in a really quite profound crisis. Nobody knows what the outcome to this process will be.

“Different countries have different rules which is one of the things causing uncertainty. The situation is changing daily and it is so fast moving. Nobody could predict this.

“Confidence will be key to reopening.”

He said they would be looking at making sure the airport was safe and clean for passenger use before considering reopening.

He also said they were investigating safety measures such as social distancing, temperature checks and PPE.

Mr Rees said: “When passengers arrive we want them to have the confidence to come through the terminal building in as normal a way as possible. The emphasis will be on a safe terminal building.”

He then also said that logistics of people on aircrafts themselves would have to be taken into consideration through social distancing measures and the wearing of masks.

And he said the key to that would be clarity from the Government.

He said: “We want guidance from the Government to have a consistent picture across the country and between counties so passengers and airlines know what is being asked of them.”