Airport still has eyes on 'prize' hubs such as Dublin and Paris after year of steady growth
PUBLISHED: 06:00 26 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:14 26 September 2018
Norwich Airport is focused on driving its international expansion, says its managing director, despite a "year of consolidation" in which a slowdown in energy sector traffic dragged back passenger growth.
The airport saw its helicopter traffic to offshore rigs dwindle, but strong growth across its holiday charter, domestic and international flights as total passenger numbers edged up 1% from 521,000 to 528,000.
The performance at the airport contributed to a record year at its parent company, The Rigby Group, which also owns Exeter and Bournemouth airports.
Managing director Richard Pace said that the rise of “walk-to-work” boats to transfer offshore workers to rigs and turbines had hit demand for helicopter transfers.
In contrast, passenger numbers rose by 10% on charter holiday flights, by 8% on domestic flights and by 6% on international flights.
And he said discussions were continuing over the airport’s 30-year masterplan, which centres upon establishing new routes with the international hubs of Dublin and Paris as gateways to other destinations.
“The last year has been one of consolidation after a significant passenger increase the previous year,” said Mr Pace.
“The missing link was the offshore sector. We need to grow other sectors to make up for the fall in helicopter passengers, so we need more scheduled flights, more holiday choices and destinations to grow overall numbers.
“Our prizes are still Dublin, Paris and Glasgow, for more connectivity to international and domestic destinations, and discussions are ongoing.”
Popular routes included the sunshine flights to Malaga and Alicante and the new route to Rhodes, while energy industry flights between Aberdeen and Norwich were up 17% year-on-year.
Mr Pace said Brexit uncertainty, exacerbated by the publication of the government’s no-deal technical notice on Monday which suggested planes could stop flying in a worst-case scenario, had made progress on new routes harder, but he expected a solution to be found before March 2019.
“The Brexit scenario doesn’t help route development because of the uncertainty being created around market access,” he said.
“When it comes to freedom to fly between countries, there’s naturally some risk perceived by carriers.
“But the working assumption in the industry is that something will get worked out. The possibility of flights being stopped is very, very low.”
Over the next year, further investments will be made at Norwich Airport including the opening of new landside and airside restaurants, and the refurbishment of the toilet facilities.
It follows a year in which £1.1m was spent upgrading a 500m stretch of the main taxiway to accommodate larger aircraft, and back-office navigational and air traffic infrastructure was improved. A new duty free shop has also opened in 2018, along with an executive lounge.
“By 2019, the passengers will have seen a transformational change in the departure experience at the airport,” said Mr Pace.