Interview: LBA CEO Vincent Hodder On Sustainable Operations And Airline Relations

Leeds Bradford Airport CEO Vincent Hodder outlines his views on airline relations and incentives, airport collaboration and sustainable route decisions.

Credit: Leeds Bradford Airport

Vincent Hodder became CEO of Leeds Bradford Airport in early 2021. He was previously CEO of LEVEL and has held roles at Flybe, Jetstar Airways and VivaAerobus.

Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) has outlined plan to become a net zero carbon airport by 2030. It has also committed to measures that support reducing emissions produced by on-site business partners, such as airlines, to encourage and make it easier for partners to decarbonize their operations. CEO Vincent Hodder speaks to Routes regarding airline relations and incentives, airport collaboration and sustainable route decisions.

How important is collaboration to learn from more advanced airports and support those further behind in the sustainability journey?

I think cooperation and collaboration is absolutely critical. I think one of the benefits that airports have—that airlines don't—is that even when we're in relatively close physical proximity, there are lots of ways in which we just don't compete with each other. 

We each have our own catchments, and individual consumers have preferences as to which endpoints they would rather fly from if the services were available. And I think that gives us an ability to be able to share ideas to collaborate and to improve, particularly on an area as important to the industry as sustainability. It's not a differentiating factor: it’s something which is absolutely required of every participant in the industry.

Does collaboration and knowledge sharing, and shared economies of scale, help in communicating requirements to manufacturers?

It absolutely does. And the more that we can standardize around a minimum set of requirements for equipment that can operate across multiple airport environments, the better. The greater the scale, the lower the costs, and that makes it more efficient for all of us to invest in that technology.  

One of the benefits that we have is that we're part of the portfolio of AMP Capital, our key shareholder as well as a significant investor in Newcastle (NCL) and Luton (LTN) airports here in the UK and Melbourne Airport (MEL) in Australia. The CEOs, COOs and HR directors of these airports all get together on a regular basis to share ideas. 

Newcastle has invested recently in power generation on-site using solar. We’re following the lessons they are learning through that process and, in the appropriate time, we'll make our own investments into solar hopefully. But we will draw on their experience to do that more effectively and efficiently, and avoid some of the issues that they may find. 

Are you planning to incentivize airlines to be greener when operating at LBA? 

We've already put that in place, both in terms of our rack rates and some of the recently executed airline-specific agreements. We have put in differential rates for more efficient versus less efficient aircraft. 

I don't see that as penalizing airlines that are less efficient. What it does is provide a financial incentive to airlines to deploy their most efficient aircraft to our airport. That's important for our local community. But it also improves the economics for them of investing in new aircraft technology.

And we make those sorts of differentiations not only for airlines: we do the same thing for consumers. If you roll up to the airport in an electric vehicle to pick up or drop off, there's no charge for 60 minutes unlike for more conventional vehicles.  

In the same way we would like to see governments incentivizing investments in green technologies. We believe that as an airport we have an obligation to be encouraging people to reduce their carbon emissions.

How have your airline partners responded to these changes? 

Today we held a joint session on sustainable aviation which incorporated our three largest carriers: Jet2.com, Ryanair and KLM. I think that's a remarkable achievement that we've been able to pull off and it points to the closeness of the relationship that we have with our major carriers.  

We have either completed or are in the process of completing long-term agreements with all three of those airlines, which are going to promote growth and the use of more efficient aircraft. We're very committed to delivering the services, products and the infrastructure which they need to conduct their businesses. And if they're not successful in operating their business, then we as an airport will never be successful. 

Maybe part of that is because I come from an airline background, not from an airport background, so we speak the same language and I understand the challenges which they face. 

Do you see a time when airlines or airports would refuse to partner based on green credentials?

I don't know if that would never happen, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. But if you if you take LBA as an example, we have a noise cap on overnight operations that restricts us to 2,800 overnight movements between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. during the summer. But that limit only applies to aircraft with a noise quota rating of 0.5 or above.  

So there's no limitation on flying a 737 MAX or an A320neo into the airport overnight, but there is a restriction on flying older technology. That's not something which is said by us as an airport, but absolutely we have to say to airlines: ‘I'm sorry, we cannot operate any more aircraft overnight during the summer period, but if you were to operate with a more efficient aircraft and more noise-efficient aircraft, you can fly as much as you want.’ 

Some airports are offering other incentives such as offsetting fuel costs—is that something you would consider?

There's always more that we can do. We’ve made our commitment to net zero by 2030 and also made a commitment to work in collaboration with our airlines and passengers to help reduce both the in-flight and surface-access emissions that are not controllable by the airport.  

But certainly, we believe that we have a role to play in influencing the behaviors of airlines and passengers to choose better environmental options. Over time, we'll learn more and we'll identify more opportunities where we can collaborate together to do that.

I don't know that that will go as far as subsidizing sustainable aviation fuel, but certainly I could see us in the future reducing some of the refueling charges that relate to sustainable aviation fuels and promoting efficiency through something which we can control.

Portrait credit: Leeds Bradford Airport