Birmingham Airport has been taking advantage of recession-low prices to build new installations and expand its capacity.We speak to chief executive Paul Kehoe about what’s on the horizon
Paul Kehoe has spent the majority of his career in aviation. Starting as an RAF air traffic controller, he then moved into domestic flights, working at Belfast, Luton and Bristol airports. He joined Birmingham in October 2008 as its chief executive, and has overseen the biggest transformation in its history. Kehoe’s efforts earned him an honourary doctorate in business from Birmingham City University and he’s feeling bullish about the future.
“When I was at Luton our motto was ‘Beat Birmingham’, but now the shoe’s on the other foot,” he says. “We are a great airport in terms of best practice, and while we are currently seventh largest in terms of passengers we could move up to fifth.”
Kehoe’s arrival at Birmingham was not welltimed, with banks crumbling and recession looming. Passenger numbers at Birmingham, just like at all airports, have fallen. However, Kehoe has flipped these negatives over and used them to spearhead expansion plans. “There’s good market conditions for construction and so we’ve been investing in the future.” So far, the main terminal has been redeveloped, a new control tower built and a £50m international pier constructed, which can provide parking for the world’s biggest planes. But the biggest development will be the 400m runway extension due to be complete and operational by April 2014. This will provide planes with a further 2,500 miles of flying range opening up theWest Coast of American, China and South America as possible destinations.
However even after construction, there’s a lot of work to be done. “It’s not a case of build it and they will come,” Kehoe says. One marketing idea is for Birmingham-bound routes to be dubbed the ‘Shakespeare Express’, using The Bard’s cache and Brum’s proximity to Stratford as a pull for international passengers. Kehoe is also looking to work with local brands, such as Jaguar Land Rover and MG, to heighten the appeal of Birmingham abroad. “We know there’s this latent demand in the Midlands for more destinations, as people in the region are flying from elsewhere in the UK. But to get the airlines here we have to appeal to destinations. A lot of what we are doing is East facing, and we are working with local brands such as Jaguar Land Rover and MG to do that.We really need to market the hell out of this and make people want to come to Birmingham.”