Future of the mothballed airport hinges on runway extension - though it's unclear when or how planning application can be heard in public
The director of Southampton Airport, Neil Garwood has resigned his post after two years in the job as the company is forced to restructure in response to the coronavirus crisis.
The former airport Customer Service Manager and Head of Operations took over from David Lees in June 2018 since when Mr Garwood has strongly championed the airport expansion plan that is dependent on extending the current runway so it can be used by larger aircraft serving more distant destinations.
However it is currently unclear when or how the planning application can be heard by Eastleigh Local Area Committee given that upcoming meetings may have to be conducted virtually. This could present technical difficulties as activists and members of the public opposed to airport expansion on environmental grounds will want to participate.
At the January’s meeting of the Airport Consultative Committee the airport said it intended to run a second public consultation at the end of March but this hasn’t happened.
Like much of the air industry the Southampton Airport is struggling as result of coronavirus and is currently operating with a skeleton staff, handling just two ‘lifeline’ flights a day to Channel Islands with many of the 1,000 employees furloughed. But there were problems before coronavirus hit.
Although the airport handled a record 2.1 million passengers in 2018 last year numbers declined after KLM and Aer Lingus withdrew services to Amsterdam and Cork.
Worse was to follow last month when Flybe ceased trading with the loss of 90% of Southampton’s passengers. Two small independent carriers Loganair and Eastern Airways quickly stepped in to backfill some domestic routes but they too are now grounded after travel restrictions dramatically reduced demand.
In a letter to staff last month Mr Garwood warned that this year’s passenger numbers would significantly lower still and that the financial position of the airports parent company,AGS Airports, was ‘very threatened’:
“Our passenger numbers, including the backfill we have secured so far, are now around half what they were forecast to be for 2020 and, crucially for our profitability, in the current market, airlines are in a position to pay us far less to operate than we’ve seen historically.
“It is so significant across the AGS group that our financial position is very threatened.
The future shape and structure of our company will be very different to what it is now, in order to ensure the airport survives.”
The new airport manager will be Steve Szalay, who is currently managing director at Aberdeen Airport. He will join the ‘newly restructured’ management team at Southampton in June.
Derek Provan chief executive of AGS Airports said on the airport website :
“Neil is a valued member of the AGS executive team and has led on Southampton’s future development by delivering the airport’s expansion plans to the point we hope to receive approval for our planning application in the coming months.
These are difficult times for AGS as for all airports, and I am very sorry to be losing Neil, however, I know Steve is relishing the opportunity of leading the team at Southampton as we rebuild the business.”