Airport,

How to avoid airport chaos

By Graham Olver, CEO of Luton Rising (June, 2022)

It’s been hard to escape the wall-to-wall media coverage lately highlighting scenes of “chaos” and lengthy queues at UK airports.

But one airport that has been noticeably absent from these stories is London Luton Airport (LLA). There is a good reason for that.

For the year to date, average waiting times at LLA have been 15 minutes for check-in, 7 minutes for security, and 11 minutes for passport control.

So how has LLA achieved this? Hasn’t it been subject to the same post-pandemic staff shortages as other airports?

The answer lies in LLA’s unique, but highly effective ownership model. Luton Rising, the company that owns the airport, is itself owned for community benefit through its sole shareholder, Luton Council. The airport is operated by a separate company, London Luton Airport Operations Ltd (LLAOL), which is backed by AENA, the world’s largest airport operator, and AMP Capital, a specialist global investment manager.

As LLA, like all airports, saw passenger numbers plunge at the start of the pandemic, Luton Rising and LLAOL signed a new partnership agreement, with Luton Rising providing £45 million in funds to stabilise the airport’s revenue.

This provided the financial stability allowing LLA to keep nearly all of its directly employed staff, with just 50 compulsory redundancies, far fewer than any other UK airport. As the economy recovered, and the job market tightened, LLA reacted with improved pay and conditions for the lowest paid workers, as well as setting up a dedicated security recruitment team. This meant that the airport was far better prepared for the subsequent bounce-back.

This is not to beat other airports with a stick. Their ownership models do not provide the opportunity for this long-term partnership approach. In contrast, we can see beyond short-term financial projections, and adopt a more strategic, systemic approach.

Our owner/ operator partnership creates a balanced eco-system between the needs of passengers, airlines, the community and the environment. Indeed, because we are owned for the benefit of the community, our values are not just financial. We can justifiably claim to be the most socially impactful airport in the country, with, for example, a level of contribution per passenger to community organisations which is more than 20x that of any other UK airport.

By the same token, our recent partnership agreement also includes provisions to enhance local recruitment for jobs at the airport, ensuring that all airport employees receive the Real Living Wage, and strengthened commitments on environmental impact.

We are always looking forward – how can we create more value, in all senses of the word? In this instance, we were looking past the pandemic, focussing on recovery and what that would require. How could our partnership prepare us for success?

So, does it work? According to LLA’s passengers, we are passing with credit.