Three questions for... Chris Sanders, aviation development diector, Newcastle International Airport

In our regular Routes News series we take a look at the people that attend Routes events and find out more about them, their jobs and the current industry issues impacting them.

In our regular Routes News series we take a look at the people that attend Routes events and find out more about them, their jobs and the current industry issues impacting them. In this issue we speak to Chris Sanders, who recently retired from his role as aviation development director at Newcastle International Airport.

 Q) What have been the biggest changes in air service development across your 15+ years in the business?

"When I started at Newcastle, in 1999, it was in the early days of European low cost airlines.   easyjet’s Liverpool base opened in late 1997 but Bristol’s Go base was still to happen.  At the time, I recall we primarily saw the future as 50-70 seat jets opening up new European destinations and transatlantic services a good possibility.  Daily wide-body flights to the Middle East?  No chance! Then came the tragic events of 9/11.  It was a sombre Routes held in Dublin around two weeks later with a number of airlines understandably absent.

"Our Newcastle based airline, Gill Airways, failed within nine days of 9/11 as the banks withdrew their support and it meant we had to fill a significant gap.  In securing a replacement on London Stansted we were very fortunate to welcome our first low cost airline, Go, who would take the route from c50k a year to 250k within two years.  On the day of the Go route announcement, I recall Barbara Cassani privately saying that, as an industry and as a result of 9/11, we would see more change in the next 12-24 months than we could have expected to have seen in the next ten years.  A great call, Barbara!

"I have witnessed the ascendancy of low cost airlines in Europe, albeit with the odd failure of low cost and legacy airline along the way, and now, of course, low cost is entering the mainstream long haul market through the likes of Norwegian, Air Asia, Westjet and others.  Air travel within Europe has become a commodity, especially evidenced by BA's decision to charge for all Economy food and drinks within Europe.  Not much product premium there other than, perhaps, a nicer type of snack to purchase! 

"I have seen the phenomenal growth of the MEB3 airlines.  Another interesting development over this period has been the growth of airline alliances.  These have helped strengthen some legacy carriers against competition from lower cost airlines of all types.  However, no chance now of playing Air France off against KLM or vice versa!  While legacy airlines have had to seriously tackle their cost bases in order to survive and in some cases prosper.  It’s a much tougher game now.

"Given this rate of change, who knows where the industry will be by 2035?  My own wish is for it to be safer, stronger and more financially secure, but still offering great value flying many more people on many more routes across the globe.  Oh, and for the UK Government to have recognised APD as an inhibitor of economic activity by abolishing it."

 Q) What have been your biggest achievements at Newcastle Airport?

"I can be proud of building up a good mix of legacy airline hub services so as to offer the best regional connectivity possible.  Well over 1.2m passengers a year are now using these services.    I would be lying if I did not say a few airlines have managed to escape the net but John [John Irving] and Leon [Leon McQuaid], I know, are keen to continue the pursuit.  Good luck, chaps! 

"At Newcastle we also have a good mix of low cost airlines, a growing list of destinations and still a strong package holiday product which is especially popular with our leisure customers.  There remains more to achieve though.

"Singling out highs and lows, Emirates’ was my proudest achievement and United my biggest disappointment – you win some, you lose some and you come away much wiser." 

Q) What have been your personal highlights of attending Routes events?

"The people, the places visited and of course some of the en-route stopovers and flights made to reach the Routes events and, naturally, Routes itself which has grown phenomenally since my first event in Amsterdam.   

"Take a step back and remember, the results of all our efforts are life changers for people.  New routes result in new personal relationships, trade links, employment opportunities, opportunities to explore different cultures and so on.  I really have enjoyed my small part in this fantastic event across the years.   For those just starting their Routes career, I wish you luck and always remember to enjoy it but never, ever, forget what your endeavours mean to real people!

"It is quite simple in reality, it is only the hurdle of airline profit and loss analysis you have to overcome and perhaps is best viewed as a game of snakes and ladders – some airports have boards mainly comprising ladders, some an even balance between the two!  If your board is just full of snakes – perhaps time to get a new job or try and redesign your board!" 

Chris Sanders retired from his role at Newcastle International Airport in December 2016 after more than 15 years of service and attendance at over 25 Routes events.

Routes News 7 NCL

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