Airline commits to Leeds Bradford Airport after coming through turbulence

THE chief executive of Monarch Group visited Leeds Bradford Airport as the airline looks to regain lost height after its recent period of sustained turbulence.

New ownership was secured late last year and since then the group has withdrawn from charter and long-haul flights, pulled out of East Midlands Airport and reduced its fleet by eight aircraft, to 34.

Chief executive Andrew Swaffield insists the re-focused airline was now in good shape.

“We wanted to focus on one thing and do it really well,” he said.  “We have focused on the scheduled market. We realised that the charter market was effectively dwindling – it was 15% of our business so we decided to just remove it completely – and it’s very difficult to run a long-haul operation with two aircraft.

“We have aligned our cost base with a low-cost carrier to return ourselves back to profitability. That has gone well and we are very pleased with how that’s progressing.”

That may understate just how difficult 2014 was for the airline, when it’s continued existence could no longer be taken for granted. However the Mantegazza family, which founded the airline in 1968, exited and were replaced by Greybull Capital Partners who agreed to invest £75m.

With its 50th birthday starting to appear on the horizon, which will also see the arrival of the first of its fuel-efficient replacement fleet, there is plenty to be optimistic about in the medium term.

Mr Swaffield’s immediate job is to make sure the Luton-based airline rebuilds its foundations and becomes a profitable low-cost operator.

“Success will be sustainable profitability, ensuring we have a strong balance sheet, ensuring we can offer secure employment,” he said.

“We are very, very conscious of the fact that we are the UK’s longest running airline brand and we would like to ensure we are around for the next five decades in a sustainably profitable way.

“Growing for Monarch financially also means reducing our winter losses and that’s very important to us. We are a very seasonal business and one of our strategic priorities is reducing losses in the winter. It will involve focusing on destinations that people want to go in the winter, that includes winter sun, it includes visiting their properties abroad and it includes ski and city breaks.”

Monarch currently employs 82 people at Leeds Bradford Airport, where it flies to 13 Mediterranean destinations from Algarve in the west through to Turkey in the east.

It is an important operator for the airport, which is clearly keen to continue to build on the relationship and add capacity.

Mr Swaffield, who met with the airport’s management to discuss future opportunities, is complimentary about the airport and the potential role it has in Monarch’s evolving strategy.

“Leeds Bradford Aiport represents a really exciting opportunity for Monarch as it’s our most northerly base,” he said.

“We had reviewed all of our operations last year, we scrutinised all of our operations really carefully  to decide what was really important to us – for example we closed our East Midlands base at the end of April – but we made a commitment to Leeds Bradford last year when we came through the restructure and we are very happy about that. This is a key market for Monarch.”

He added: “The management here are very co-operative, very commercial, very interested in working together with us. Co-operation between airline and airport is really important because a customer doesn’t really see the difference.

“If we can be seamless and work together then we will be very successful and the team here have always been very approachable, open to ideas, we couldn’t ask for more really. Here, we really feel we are part of the team.”