Phil Forster, media and communications whizz at Leeds Bradford Airport checks in with JLife’s Evangeline Spachis to explain why LBA is hoping to be ‘Yorkshire’s Airport’.
Speaking to Phil Forster, aviation development and corporate affairs manager, it’s clear that there is a renewed sense of positivity surrounding Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA). Joining the Yorkshire airport after over two years at Newcastle International Airport, Phil, alongside David Laws, the new chief executive, has implemented some pretty impressive changes in less than 12 months: “There’s a lot of work going on at present. The overall aim at the moment is to create an airport that Yorkshire can be proud of in terms of offering leisure links and business services.” Phil tells us.
“As I look out the window now, there’s a brand new ‘Meet and Greet’ service being built in the car park, a full re-tarmac at the front of the building, a new sign is going up, we’ve just opened a brand new Viking car park service off-site and three fantastic brand new lounges.”
These are just some of the improvements that have been put in place since the new team took over in May 2017, and for Phil, it was a no-brainer to join his former colleague David from Newcastle to start a new challenge last year: “He’s a fantastic guy and he’s come here to help this airport realise its potential. He’ll leave no stone unturned and it’s exciting to be part of this journey that we’re on.”
Interestingly, before joining Newcastle International Airport and the world of aviation, Phil was flying high in the world of sport, both as a reporter for Sky Sports News and initially as a press officer for Newcastle United. So what prompted the move from top-flight football, to well, flights? “I’ve always worked in the media really. I was at Sky Sports News for five years and thoroughly enjoyed my time there but I eventually decided that rather than being a reporter, I wanted to be on the communications side of how the media works. I have always been fascinated with local government, politics and aviation and transport and the role at Newcastle airport came along.”
“You never know which turn your career will take, but once David came to LBA, there was an opportunity for me to come down here and I got a lot of guidance from Chris Sanders, the aviation development director. There’s a fantastic team in place here and it’s an industry I can never see myself leaving now.”
Now I couldn’t speak to Phil without asking about a certain ‘Beast from the East’ which reared its ugly head in his first year of working in Yorkshire: “It was certainly an experience and the first time even I had ever seen snow like that!” admitted Phil. “The team were a credit though and worked around the clock to keep the airport open. We can’t always beat the weather, but the airport has invested over £1 million in new snow equipment and operational kit so that we can be more prepared when things like this happen.”
With so much good news to share about the airport’s redevelopment, aside from relentless snow drifts, it’s been a dream job so far, and as Phil explains, the site will be a destination that the people of Yorkshire can be proud of: “It is exciting times not just for the people who work at this airport but for those who want to use it. A thriving region needs a thriving airport and people want to use their local airport if they can.”
The largest county then, needs an airport that can compete with the likes of Manchester Airport and keep holidaymakers and business travel trade in Yorkshire. Being only the 15th largest airport in the country, Leeds Bradford Airport is hoping to finally draw those customers back with these important refurbishments.
As part of the site’s repositioning as ‘Yorkshire’s Airport’, the region’s largest airport recently showcased the first part of its terminal redevelopments, including new purpose-built lounges. Featuring runway views, The Yorkshire Lounge, The White Rose Suite and 1432 Club will replace the current Yorkshire Premier Lounge. The Yorkshire Lounge is a place for families to relax and enjoy refreshments pre-flight, while The White Rose Suite is ideal for business passengers and couples – a lounge that serves barista-style coffee and a fully-serviced bar – and the 1432 Club, named after the runway, features a self-service bar and a prime view of the airfield. Works on a new Starbucks coffee shop and additional retails outlets have also started too.
Aside from the refit though, an ambitious aim has also been announced to expand the airport’s operations. The airport now serves over 70 destinations in 25 countries and has grown passenger numbers by 6% over the last 12 months to 3.7 million passengers. But there is still a way to go, with a new masterplan to reach seven million passengers using LBA – set to be unveiled before the end of the year. Phil revealed goals to increase connectivity to the Middle East and within Europe are on the radar, and cited the return of Thomas Cook for summer 2018 to the airport and the continued prominence of Jet2.com as “a fantastic success story”. But as with any major project, there are challenges to be met, one of which is access to the airport itself, and Phil seems optimistic about resolving this issue: “It’s not the easiest airport to get to but we have to make it work. We want to bring forward plans to get a parkway station,” Phil reveals, “all the issues that people have addressed, we want to focus on them as quickly as we can. We’re doing some great work with the two councils and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and they really want this to work for the region. Everyone is coming together to connect Yorkshire to the world.”