24 June 2022
There’s one thing on everyone’s mind this week; travel.
Two of the three-day-planned rail strikes have now taken place, with as many as 40,000 workers on railway services walking out en masse in a dispute over pay and jobs.
This follows weeks of travel disruption hitting the headlines as our aviation sector tries to meet demand post-COVID restrictions.
While there’s no denying the short-term disruption the rail strikes will cause (UKHospitality estimate that they could cost the sector up to £540m a week in lost sales), there is some positive news on travel this week.
The first in the form of Birmingham Airport’s focused approach to tackling the shortage of security officers that have contributed to some of the delays we’ve seen in recent weeks. In many ways, it’s been a perfect storm for the aviation industry, not just in the UK but across Europe and beyond. They were among the hardest hit by COVID restrictions – then a welcome (but very sudden) lifting of travel restrictions on the 18 March saw demand at Birmingham Airport jump from 30 per cent of pre-COVID levels to 80-85 per cent by May and now into June.
It's a 12-week process vetting and training new security so it’s fair to say it’s been pretty tight. However, having met with the senior leadership team at the airport recently it seems this initial bottleneck is opening up and they’ve now hired all additional security officers needed to get back to full capacity in the coming weeks.
While this won’t solve the challenges facing some individual airlines on staffing (that could be another column for another day) it will very much improve the experience at the airport. Generally speaking it’s a 15 to 40 minute wait time through security in peak periods currently (dawn peak – that’s flights before 0900 – is the busiest but even then, what we see on social media tends to be the extremes rather than the norms). The airport is targeting a return to sub-10 minutes.
Birmingham Airport is a significant driver in the regional economy, projected to contribute £2.1bn in GVA and 34,400 jobs, by 2033. As well as being key to the visitor economy it’s also important for businesses trading and building connections internationally. Despite the headaches that have come with dusting off and reopening an industry that was effectively mothballed for a large part of the pandemic – I am delighted to see the airport rapidly returning to full speed ahead.
And the Airport’s importance to the UK and region is only set to increase with the arrival of HS2. Via the Interchange station, passengers from central London will be able to reach BHX in 37 minutes – opening up a whole new market for domestic customers and unlocking a raft of commercial benefits for both the city and the wider region.
Which brings me to my second piece of travel related news this week; the HS2 Phase 2B Bill reaching its second reading in Parliament this week. In a nutshell, Phase 2B is the Crewe to Manchester leg of HS2.
When Phase 2B is delivered, it will better connect the UK’s three largest economic centres - London, Birmingham and Manchester which will allow for much faster and more frequent connections and all of the economic activity that will generate. While there’s some debate over the infrastructure of the proposed Manchester Station, the connectivity into Manchester itself is the crucial part of realising the benefits of HS2 for Greater Birmingham’s businesses.
At the Chamber, we’ll be working closely with local stakeholders on helping ensure Phase 2 of HS2 stays on track (rail pun intended).
By Henrietta Brealey (pictured), chief executive officer at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce.
This column first appeared in the Birmingham Post on Thursday 23 June 2022.