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THE BIG INTERVIEW


and her military reflexes in dealing with disaster were mobilised as she was asked to head up MAG’s crisis response and recovery plans. She clearly made an impression as, four months into


the pandemic, she was appointed in the top job at EMA, replacing Karen Smart, who moved into the same role at Manchester Airport. Summer was a strange period as the Government


attempted to get the economy moving again following lockdown by opening travel corridors with other countries – but with a significant amount of restraint as it added and removed nations from a travel quarantine list on a weekly basis. Being demand-led, EMA’s airlines, which include


Jet2.com, Ryanair and Tui, reduced their schedules as they operated on passenger loads ranging between 30% and 50%. Clare, who lives in Berkshire but is based at a hotel


next to the airport through the week, says: “We were just starting to see the green shoots of recovery when they were quickly quashed with the quarantine regime imposed on us. “By making announcements on the Friday that said


‘as of midnight on Saturday, you have to quarantine for two weeks’, it’s created so much uncertainty and taken all confidence out of the market.”


WHILE THE DAYTIME passenger side of EMA has been crippled by the pandemic, the opposite is true of its cargo operation, which processes about a million individual packages and letters every night and handles more than 370,000 tonnes of flown cargo every year. This makes it the UK’s busiest pure freight airport


and second only to Heathrow for annual tonnage of all cargo. It acts as the UK logistics hub for both DHL and UPS, which have invested tens of millions on new sites there in recent years. The exponential growth of online shopping has


contributed heavily to a 20% increase in volume over the past year. It recorded its highest ever monthly cargo volume in


September 2020, when 40,636 tonnes of goods passed through the airport. This marked a 32% increase on a year earlier and eclipsed the previous record of 34,107 tonnes handled in November 2018. “It’s a tale of two halves,” says Clare. “With the


lockdowns and changing consumer habits that they’ve brought about, e-commerce has seen a real boom and our cargo operation, as a result, has really benefitted. “But it’s a dual role airport and cargo alone doesn’t


sustain the asset base and operating model – it’s a combination of cargo and passengers.” Clare admits any plans for passenger growth have


been “kicked into the long grass” for the moment, with passenger surveys suggesting it could be up to 12


28 business network December 2020/January 2021


months before people think about travelling again. But she remains optimistic about the future – one


that will have a greener tint, with sustainability high on the agenda as MAG explores alternative fuels and hydrogen fuel cells. “EMA is well known as the local friendly airport and


it’s important we continue that offering,” Clare adds. “The big-little airport is what I call it. It’s a strategic


hub with a global role, but it’s also got that regional feel from a passenger perspective. That’s what makes EMA work and what makes it unique.”


AIRPORT TESTING KEY TO REGAINING CONFIDENCE


Lobbying Government for more financial support is one of the key challenges for Clare. With the aviation industry not expected to return


to pre-Covid passenger levels until 2024-25, airports and airlines have called for help to prevent huge job losses. In October, it was announced 51 frontline service


roles could be cut at EMA as part of wide-ranging redundancies by parent group MAG, which put 892 jobs at risk after a 90% drop in passengers across its three airports between April and August. Clare says: “As well as the operational side of minimising costs, preserving the jobs we have and planning for the future in how we build back, my priority is to lobby Government because we’ve not had great support as a sector. “We’ve used the Job Retention Scheme, which


has been available to all businesses, but aviation has been absolutely decimated by this. We have a very high fixed-cost base so the challenge for me is how do we mitigate the losses and secure the future of the airport? “We need Government to recognise the role of the industry in the broader economy. It’s


not just about holidays and passenger flying, but the vital role we play in cargo through bringing in PPE and supporting the online boom we’re experiencing. “There’s also a huge supply chain and it’s hundreds of jobs that are at risk – everyone from airport retailers to road hauliers.”


REGAINING PASSENGER CONFIDENCE to get back in the air is also important. Clare believes rapid testing at departure and arrival, and a more “risk-based” approach to travel, is the way forward. She adds: “At the moment, all the evidence points to the fact that quarantining doesn’t


work as people aren’t complying with it. “A far more nuanced approach would be to get a testing regime in so we’re catching


75% of the people with a positive or negative test. “What we really need is a strategy for next summer. This virus isn’t going to go away in


12 months, even though there’s positivity about the vaccine, so it’s going to be a combination of travel corridors, a testing regime that allows people to not have to quarantine and vaccination. “We’re resigned to the fact we’ve lost the summer and winter this year, but what we really need from Government is a policy that will help people book with confidence next summer.”


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