Making regional ambitions a reality

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Al Titterington is the managing director of Cornwall Airport Newquay, a scheduled hub located in the southwest UK. His appointment at the age of 28 made him the youngest airport director in the industry.

How did you get into aviation?

I’d finished university in the summer before the September 11 terror attacks, and had been doing some aviation consultancy work which gave me the airport bug. When the attacks happened the demand for consultancy dropped, so I went to work for Servisair at Leeds Bradford airport (LBA) as a dispatcher, with the odd baggage handler shift thrown in for good measure.

Tell us about your career so far.

Working at LBA gave me the appetite for airports and I knew that was the career for me. However, being ambitious I wanted to get to management level as soon as possible, so I went back to university at Loughborough and gained my MSc Airport Planning and Management degree. On completion I found the airport consultancy market had picked up again and I was seconded in to roles on the development of Doncaster Sheffield airport, the expansion of Coventry airport and other projects across the globe. Those experiences really shaped my career. When I started as operations director at Cornwall Airport Newquay aged 28, I was the youngest appointed airport director in the industry. I felt very privileged.

How has Cornwall Airport Newquay evolved?

Significantly. When I took over the business was on its knees – I would say weeks away from the council withdrawing its financial support. We had to very quickly stabilise the business, which involved some very difficult decisions in respect of airline contracts, expenditure budgets and governance. Basically we were in survival mode while we implemented a new business strategy, which had a focus of diversification around aerospace growth (designated as an enterprise zone on this basis), corporate aviation, flight training and so on, and utilising the airport’s assets. At the same time we were rebuilding the route network in a more sustainable manner than what had previously been in place. The strategy has been hugely successful in attracting global aerospace companies to the airport – and, in 2016, it was the fastest-growing airport in the UK, with passenger throughput back at pre-recession levels.

What plans do you have for the airport?

A number of our routes are summer only, so we want to develop more year-round services. Top of the list is sun destinations. As an economy which is dependent on tourism, we have significant demand for winter sun. We also want to link to other city destinations (like Birmingham) to have a year-round offering, enhancing domestic connectivity. On the non-passenger side of the business, the plan is to keep expanding the aerospace portfolio. Cobham has recently become our latest tenant and there other opportunities to grow this important cluster of companies.

What are your main challenges?

Certainly Brexit and the recent election result have done us no favours. Leaving the EU means that Cornwall as a Tier 1 Convergence Area will lose its European funding stream, which impacts our ability to make infrastructure investments, such as in hangarage. Inbound tourism will be boosted, but conversely some of our airline partners, notably Ryanair, are stating they won’t increase capacity in the UK and may even trim it, which leaves us vulnerable as an airport, with only six flights per week with Ryanair, for example. Airline yields are affected – we can see this through our fare tracking. With a majority government Heathrow was a winner for us; in a minority government, will they still have that same level of commitment to major infrastructure projects? Big question mark! #

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety of areas I cover: anything from an airline transaction to meeting senior ministers or lugging bags on a weekend to support the team, and turning an aircraft around so our customers get away on their trips on time. Every day is different. I have a great team, and it’s important not to let challenges stop us from achieving what we want to achieve.

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