Manchester Airport executives believe that a keynote meeting of business and airline executives will act as a catalyst for new and expanded global air routes to boost the economy of the North of England.
The landmark event at the Concorde Conference Centre at Manchester Airport promoted Manchester and the City Region as a core hub for worldwide business and international gateway to the UK.
The all-day gathering was attended by international business leaders, executives from airlines worldwide and civic and corporate executives from the Northwest.
Those present agreed that new and expanded routes for Manchester Airport were a key driver of regional economic growth and that a partnership approach was needed when negotiating for such routes.
The airport is already considering routes to long haul destinations such as China, Malaysia, Japan, Boston and Los Angeles.
Andrew Harrison, commercial director at Manchester Airport, was on a high profile panel that discussed long haul opportunities. The panel also featured Martin Douglas, managing director of the Trafford Park operation of US food firm Cargill, Richard Vaughan, senior vice president of Emirates, Malcolm Gresty, director of international relations for MIDAS, Manchester’s inward investment agency, Barbara Spicer, chief executive of Salford City Council and Paul Simpson, managing director of Visit Manchester.
Mr Harrison said the City Region should “speak with one voice” when negotiating with airlines for improved and new routes for Manchester.
He said: “We need to speak with consistency when we are trying to persuade airlines to give us more services. We have got a great story to tell but also have some of the best kept secrets such as the BBC relocating to MediaCity:UK and when you say that to an airline they sit up and take notice.”
He urged passengers to use existing long haul routes from Manchester Airport by saying their motto should be “use it or lose it”.
Mr Harrison said 50% of travellers from the North wanting to fly to Dubai drove to Heathrow rather than take flights from Manchester.
Mr Gresty said there were about 2,000 foreign-owned companies in Greater Manchester and that the City Region had to remain competitive to maintain and develop strong links between such local operations and parent companies overseas.
“Air travel is delivering the trade links of the 21st century world economy – direct flights are the lifeblood of connectivity by attracting business and leisure tourism,” he said.
Although the Middle East already had “great connectivity” with Manchester via direct flights there were still opportunities for the city to expand those links – proven by Manchester City FC being acquired by the Abu Dhabi United consortium and then signing a multi-million pound shirt sponsorship deal with Abu Dhabi airline Etihad.
The Far East was also served well by the airport – there were 37 Japanese companies in Greater Manchester – but Mr Gresty said further such investment was at risk if direct routes were not started with major emerging economies such as China.
Mr Gresty said: “We need to retain and grow existing routes to emerging markets and to start new routes to Malaysia, Japan and China. Our ultimate goal is to make Manchester even greater.”
A lunchtime panel focused on US opportunities and panellists were Andrew Stokes, chief executive of Marketing Manchester, Andrew Cornish, managing director of Manchester Airport Group, Colin Sinclair, chief executive of MIDAS and Brian Smith, vice president of Waters Corporation, a major US business with four sites around Manchester.
Mr Sinclair said: “Some 50 per cent of foreign inward investment brought in by MIDAS and 30 per cent of all the foreign-owned companies (FOCs) located in Manchester are from the US. The west coast of America continues to be a target and despite the current economic gloom prospects are looking good for the next 12-24 months.
“Manchester represents the best near-shore location to London giving cost savings in the region of 40 per cent. Direct long haul routes are of paramount importance in driving trade and attracting inward investment.”
Mr Smith said: “In my sector, scientific industries, there is no match for Manchester. We have the history, the university to provide the talent pool, innovation and the airport – we have to ensure that global affiliates can fly direct into Manchester.”
Mr Stokes said: “Connectivity and ease of access to the North West is vitally important. There is the demand for the UK to have two global cities, and the second is Manchester. The airport is our jewel in the crown.”
The afternoon session debated the Indian market and included Shashi Kant Kaundal, head of Birimingham Operation for Air India, Dilip Kakar, manager, finance and admin, UK and Ireland for Kingfisher Airlines, Uday K Dholakia, senior partner of Global Consulting, Vishal Bahri, manager, Manchester for State Bank of India, Andrew Harrison, and Tim Newns, director of business development at MIDAS.
Business attendees urged the international airlines to establish direct flights now, or lose out in the long term.
The event was staged jointly by Manchester Airport, Marketing Manchester and MIDAS, supported by funding from the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) through its Air Services Development Fund.