OPINION: Now is the time to cement relationships

Tom Screen, aviation director at Birmingham Airport (BHX), explains how the UK airport reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic and outlines his hopes for the future.

By Tom Screen, aviation director at Birmingham Airport (BHX)

screenOur network has decreased drastically, with just a few flights per week to Amsterdam and Dublin and some inbound flights from Pakistan that are bringing in repatriated customers. However, we maintained cargo services through the likes of FedEx and Carousel and have remained open for aircraft maintenance. 

We also took the decision to stay open until midnight and not reduce our hours too much so that there’s no disruption to our partners and to support the region. With Birmingham’s NHS Nightingale Hospital on our doorstep, it is important that key medical supplies can get through. 

Our larger carriers, Jet2.com and TUI, expect to be operating again by mid-June. We’re hopeful that the capacity reductions this summer will be less than we originally thought.

EasyJet were planning to start services to Edinburgh and Glasgow before the pandemic and, with Flybe going out of business, they have taken the decision to increase frequencies on both as well as Belfast. EasyJet has been a long-term target for us—as the Midlands is a bit of a gap in their network—so we’re hopeful they see Birmingham as a region they want to invest in.

On our long-haul services, I think the return of traffic will very much depend on when borders open up. Different countries are likely to reopen at different rates. We plan to cement the relationships we have with existing operators to make sure their routes are flying as profitably as possible, while keeping a close eye at opportunities in key long-haul markets, such as New York.

The pandemic hasn’t changed our relationships with airlines, and our message is that we want to work with carriers as proactively as possible. If we can help with things like extending payment terms, then we will. We’re ready to support our partners and will review everything on a case-by-case basis.

It will be interesting to see how the pandemic impacts air travel long term with changes in customer behaviours in the short term. On the other hand, there could be a lot of pent up demand and a real desire to see people face-to-face.

Photo credit: Birmingham Airport