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Manchester airport


Sitting between Manchester Airport's two runways, construction procurement director David Teale can count £1000 in landing fees every minute. His office looks out over Manchester's 3km long, £172M second runway which opened this spring, increasing aircraft movements by 15% to 57 slots per hour. Opening it 'was crucial to our target of nearly doubling passenger throughput to 41M/year by 2015', notes chief executive Geoff Muirhead.

The second runway was controversial throughout its two decade gestation period and arrived a year late. But Muirhead, a civil engineer, insists this will not impede Manchester's plan to knock Gatwick off its position as the UK's number two airport, behind Heathrow, by around 2010. It has already dramatically enhanced the airport's financial performance and is the main trigger for £1bn of construction spend over the next 15 years.

Built in 1938 deep in the Lancashire countryside, what was then Ringway Airport, with a grass strip runway, has become a burgeoning three terminal complex. Now surrounded by new housing developments and protected green belt land, future expansion must be mainly internal.

Long term growth involves change in the airport's role. Manchester's passenger catchment contains 20M people. Too many passengers treat it as a shuttle airport to access long haul flights from Heathrow. Plans are in place to increase direct flights to international destinations from 160 to 250. Teale also wants the airport to become one of Europe's 'hub' interchanges, competing with Amsterdam's Schipol, among others.

To attract lucrative interchange business and grow organically, terminals must be streamlined, cutting flight transfer times down to 45 minutes.

Check-in and baggage handling routes need comprehensive rethinking. Ticketing must become increasingly automated with passengers checking themselves in through the internet. By 2015 Muirhead wants 'a queueless airport ' with the vast checkin halls, currently given over to lines of people, transformed into yet more shops. Rationalisation of existing terminals will kick off with £350M of work.

Today's airports are not trafficked by passengers alone.

Manchester is also a retail and commercial village supporting over 300 companies, shops and cafes. Airport related staff numbers will more than double to 40,000 by 2015. Getting people, baggage and goods into and through the complex is the major infrastructure challenge.

Manchester's solution is construction of a fully integrated ground transport interchange.

Involving a £60M remodelling of the in-house rail station, it will offer access to trains, buses, coaches and taxis, and connect with Manchester's Metrolink tram network, which is to be extended from the city. Contractor Skanska started on the construction phase of the interchange project in May under a £27M design and build contract. When it is complete in 2003, train paths will increase 30% and the futuristic concourse will offer remote check-in.

In 2003 the 21km metro extension - to be part funded by the airport - will arrive. Later still the interchange could become a through-station with a new £200M rail link to the West Coast Main Line, though at present this remains an aspiration rather than a plan.

At a glance

Manchester Airport plc is owned by 10 local authorities with Manchester City Council holding 55%. With a throughput of 19M passengers a year it is Britain's third busiest airport behind Gatwick and Heathrow. But the company is the UK's second largest airport operator following purchases of Humberside Airport in 1999 plus Bournemouth and East Midlands airports this March. Turnover last year of £255M produced an operating profit of £49M despite being hit hard by the loss of duty free revenue. The airport employs 19,000 staff and supports 300 businesses.

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