Airport plans for non-European flights

The Wine & Deli Bar

The Wine & Deli Bar - Credit: Archant

WITH the winter weather biting hard, the prospect of a break to sunnier climes appeals strongly.

Bristol Airport artist's impression

Bristol Airport artist's impression - Credit: Bristol Airport

Bristol Airport boasts more than 100 European destinations on its annual flight schedule, but currently the beauty and warmth of South Africa or the hustle and bustle of New York remains a dream. But maybe for not much longer.

Bristol Airport Aspire loung

Bristol Airport Aspire loung - Credit: Bristol Airport

The Mercury was granted exclusive access behind the scenes at the airport this week as the ambitious £150million proposal put before North Somerset Council in 2010 is slowly but surely being turned into reality.

A low key start 14 months ago saw work begin on building three new aircraft stands, but bigger changes including improvements to public transport, the construction of a large hotel and increasing the number of boarding gates are set to transform the site.

Chief executive officer Robert Sinclair joined Bristol Airport’s team in 2009, in what proved to be a tumultuous few months.

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It was the year that saw its passenger footfall dip for the first time because of the recession and looking back he can joke about the coincidental timing.

While not as badly affected as some regional airports, the recession unquestionably had an impact but Mr Sinclair believes there is now ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

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Last July, September and October, the airport achieved record numbers of passengers.

While numbers have steadily risen, gradual improvements have been made to make sure passengers have the best start or end to their journey although Mr Sinclair admitted many of the improvements have probably gone unnoticed by non-frequent fliers.

The toilets have been freshened up, access to the baggage reclaim has been improved and various bars and restaurants, such as The Wine & Deli Bar, have been introduced to meet customer demand.

Some of the 30 projects planned, however, are of far greater size and cost.

In April, the airport’s new £600,000 Aspire business lounge will open and in the coming months work will start on a new walkway - from the site of the current business lounge - which will see the creation of new boarding gates.

The airport’s appearance will dramatically change with a 250-bed hotel built on the site of the current car rental hire facilities, a multi-storey car park adjoining it and a public transport interchange outside the front door.

The old terminal, which is now used as an administration building, will also be knocked down once a new centre is built, and the area will be turned into an aircraft turning zone, thus allowing the airport to cater for larger planes.

Whilst bosses have successfully teamed up with airports in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Corsica in the last few weeks, plans are already afoot to reintroduce non-European flights.

Mr Sinclair said expanding into Scandinavia and Germany was the immediate priority following comments from passengers, but admitted half an eye was focusing on flights elsewhere.

He said: “We lost our continental flight to New York (in 2010) which was a casualty of the recession.

“It was important from a profile sense. I would love to have them (back) in the fullness of time.”

Although far from a certainty, the ability to accommodate larger planes at the airport could open doors for flights to South Africa and the Far East in the future.

The airport has launched a new careers programme as it bids to recruit 300 more people in the next five years, but the expansion has not proved universally popular.

Months of negotiations were required with North Somerset Council and the Government as opponents from the community attempted to put a stop to the building work.

Mr Sinclair said: “There were a lot of people who didn’t want to see the expansion but it was something we had to work through.

“North Somerset Council was careful to protect the local community but didn’t stand in the way of a very positive project for North Somerset.”

One of the lesser known conditions of the expansion was that the airport has to pay £100,000 per year to a community fund and the first year has seen money spent on a variety of projects including road improvements in Backwell and a school farm at Court de Wyck Primary School in Claverham.

To reach the 10 million passengers-per-year milestone, the airport requires the backing of the community and Mr Sinclair said it is only right that local people benefit from the fund.

He said: “We recognise that, as an airport, we have an impact on the community and we felt it was important to preserve our relationship.”

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