Manchester Airport is among the country’s foremost international airports, having recently cemented its reputation by surpassing a rolling total of twenty-nine million annual passengers, travelling on both major airliners and smaller private jets. This puts it just slightly ahead of London Stansted (though still some way short of London Heathrow on around 80 million).

The growth of Manchester Airport can be seen as a reflection of the growth of the wider north, for which it is seen as the primary means of reaching the rest of the world. As more businesses and tourists are attracted to Manchester, Liverpool, and the Lake District, we can expect to see passenger numbers dwindle, too – in spite of mounting concern over the environmental impact of air travel.

Big Money Going In

Unlike Heathrow, Manchester Airport still has plenty more to give without the construction of an additional runway. And an astonishing £1 billion has been put into revamping the terminal and airfields to make passenger throughput as high as possible. 

The airport’s operator, MAG, has been placing constant pressure on government to set out a clear strategy for connecting the airport to the rest of the North via a proposed high-speed rail network, and to encourage international travel to the airport.

The company’s ‘master plan’was first set out in 2007, and received a revision in 2016, along with a new name – the ‘Sustainable Development Plan’. It’s divided into four key components:

  • Economy and Surface Access
  • Land Use
  • Environment
  • Community

The original plan was naturally thwarted slightly by the arrival of a global recession. Originally, it was estimated (with the help of government forecasts) that the passenger throughput would rise to between 37 and 38 million by 2015, and 50 million by 2030. The company has used Department for Transport and Airports Commission forecasts to determine the potential throughput of the existing two runways: a staggering 55 million. This capacity, along with the investment necessary to realise it, might help to explain why Manchester Airport is growing at such a prodigious rate.

A key component of the SDP is surface access. Put simply, the better the road and rail links to the airport, the better. Rail allows for far greater passenger throughput than road, even if we discount the environmental benefits. The airport reports that public transport for passengers sat at around 25% for passengers, and 21% for staff. Anything that can be done to bolster this figure will help to make the airport more accessible. They have identified ‘kiss and fly’ and taxi trips as causing twice as much congestion relative to parking at the airport, and are looking to make the latter option more affordable.

MAG has lofty ambitions where surface action is concerned: it believes that a 50:50 split between non-road and road passengers is achievable, even once the passenger count has risen to 45 million.

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