Neil Hodgson reports on signs of improving prospects for Liverpool John Lennon Airport
LIVERPOOL John Lennon Airport’s (JLA) fortunes are poised to improve with new routes and a fresh commitment from budget airline Ryanair.
In August, JLA reported a 352,000 plunge in passenger numbers during the first six months of 2012.
But chief executive Craig Richmond predicts business will “come roaring back” as the economy moves into growth.
And Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary, in an exclusive interview with The Post, pledged to fill any gaps created by rival Easyjet, which continues with its investment in its Manchester operations.
Since starting its first Manchester services in 2008, Easyjet now flies to 29 destinations. That compares with 31 routes from JLA established over 16 years.
Easyjet flew 43,000 fewer passengers from JLA in the first six months.
Ryanair has also seen passenger levels fall as it cut back on frequencies and routes, but, announcing two new summer routes last week for Liverpool, to Croatia and Poland, and an increase in frequencies on existing services such as Alicante, Malaga and Faro, Mr O’Leary revealed he has signed a growth agreement with JLA that will bring further routes and an extra plane next summer, taking its total jets based there to eight.
He said the expansion confirms Ryanair’s commitment to Liverpool “big time” and added: “We’re going to add another aircraft there next year and two new routes and 200,000 passengers next year, which is very important when Easyjet are cutting flights there next year.”
And he insisted the Dublin-based airline’s cultivation of its operations at its Manchester base will not be at the expense of Liverpool.
“We have a new growth agreement with the airport which we’re very pleased with. We have a three-year plan that means we are going to grow from 2m to 3m passengers at Liverpool.
“We expect both Liverpool and Manchester airports to grow equally next year. Manchester will do about 2.4m passengers and Liverpool will do about 2.1m and we expect both of them to grow to over 3m passengers over three years.”
He said: “It’s important that we are growing at Liverpool at the same time as Manchester. Easyjet has announced growth in Manchester, but at the expense of Liverpool. We feel both airports should grow and compete against each other. We now have real competition between the two airports, giving a better deal for the consumer at both airports.
“We want to balance out Liverpool and Manchester and don’t want one to grow at the expense of the other. That’s what Easyjet are doing.
“I think Easyjet are gradually moving most of their effort into Manchester, and partly that creates an opportunity for us to grow at Liverpool, too.
“One of the problems we’ve had at Liverpool in recent years has been getting early morning room and gates and slots, and as Easyjet declines we will take advantage of those gaps in the system.”
He said current passenger levels for Liverpool are promising: “The second half is very good and looking strong.
“We have added a couple more extra flights this winter in demand for things like football. Thankfully, both the Liverpool teams are doing a bit better this year.”
And he said growth will continue to come from further expansion into Europe, and possibly a budget transatlantic route which Mr O’Leary mooted a couple of years ago.