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Karen Smart talks Manchester Airport spreading its wings post pandemic

On Thursday 17th February, Downtown in Business Manchester were delighted to be joined by Karen Smart, the Managing Director of Manchester Airport, for an exclusive roundtable lunch at INNSIDE by Melia.

On Thursday 17th February, Downtown in Business Manchester were delighted to be joined by Karen Smart, the Managing Director of Manchester Airport, for an exclusive roundtable lunch at INNSiDE by Melia.

Karen discussed how the airport has been affected by COVID and the overall guide to the recovery of the airport and  gave an insight into her involvement in developing the airport’s role within the North.

Firstly, Karen focused on the impacts of COVID and how the airport could never have seen the pandemic coming. One of Karen’s first tasks in her role as Managing Director of Manchester Airport was to assist with the recovery strategy from 28.5 million passengers a year, they went to zero over night when the pandemic hit the UK and then had to recover through 2/3 false starts due to various lockdowns, creating a tough atmosphere for the airport to operate to pre-pandemic levels again.

Karen declared that once lockdown measures were eased, passengers came back quickly, as expected. Karen discussed how Manchester Airport lost one million pounds a day at the height of pandemic and used to furlough scheme effectively, with 80% of staff on furlough.

Karen then went on to discuss the progress of the new terminal which is due for completion by the summer of 2025 meaning that 65 million passengers will go through the airport per year, positively adding to the growth of the airport for many years to come.

Manchester airport is in the top 10 airports in the UK for passenger experience and Karen noted how the airport are trying to achieve an airport with global reach and global feel with a local stamp, bringing Manchester into the airport and the airport into Manchester. The airport acknowledges that it is important to keep food and beverage outlets local therefore incorporating the whole of the North West is important too. The airport wants to ensure it keeps the standards of passenger experience and ensure that it is economically viable to travel from the airport too. Overall it is clear to see how the airport has been through difficult times but has now reached exciting times.

Karen stated how her biggest challenge so far is recruitment and highlighted the importance of getting staff in and how Manchester Airport have utilised apprenticeships. The airport is going through a recruitment process at the moment an targeting staff through radio campaigns, recruitment days and offering great opportunities.

Questions were asked around the frequent flyer taxes, the strategies in place for the future and the sustainability agenda. Karen answered all of the questions in the room with her knowledge and expertise. Liverpool free port status was discussed in the Q&A session and how Manchester airport can capitalise on this, the free port will bring investment to the region which is great for business however connectivity is needed and Manchester airport need to support Liverpool as a region by having global reach which can then lead to further investment, jobs and business as a whole.

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