“A LITTLE bit of pressure is no bad thing”, Shannon Airport’s new boss has said in response to expectations he is the man to turn its fortunes around.
Scotsman Neil Pakey has led management teams which saw extraordinary growth in passenger numbers at both Liverpool and Manchester airports and his credentials and track record have led to new wave of optimism in the Mid-West.
While he does not take up his position as chief executive of Shannon Airport until June 10, Mr Pakey jetted in last week to celebrate the inaugural flight of US Airways’ restored seasonal service to Philadelphia.
“We’ll have the good days and we’ll have some bad days but hopefully we will have much more ups than downs,” he said. “It’s a big challenge but a big opportunity as well. Today is US Airways’ day and it’s a great pleasure to be here and see all the optimism. It is good that 90% of the [Philadelphia] flight is inbound tourism to the west of Ireland.
“Obviously, everybody has a stake in the airport; everybody in the whole region has a stake in the services we bring and it is going to be a very exciting time for me.”
Asked what had motivated him in applying for the job, Mr Pakey cited a new confidence in the region surrounding the separation of Shannon from the DAA.
“The thing that stood out for me was probably the new board and the new belief here. For a long time, Shannon has been part of a wider group. There are some good things about that but actually now having that independence and seeing the quality of the new board, it is dynamic. Talking to the board really did excite me, as did the opportunity and the region – the more I get to know it, the more I like it.”
The task at Shannon would be in ways similar to that which faced him when he took over at Liverpool, later rebranded John Lennon International.
“At Liverpool, in marketing terms we were a challenger brand. We were the airport that was challenging the big capital city ones. Here in Shannon, again, it’s a similar thing and the dependency on working with stakeholders across the community is massive.
“We are all in it together. There is no sense of the airport being sort of superior to anybody else or a monopoly,” Mr Pakey said.
Passenger numbers at Liverpool had grown from 867,000 in 1998 to 5.47 million in 2007, although this has since fallen to around 4.5 million. That net growth was largely built on increased services from Ryanair and EasyJet. And the health of Mr Pakey’s relationship with Michael O’Leary was evident from the personal congratulations sent to him by the Ryanair boss.
“I had a nice text message from Michael wishing me all the best and good relationships with the airlines are going to be very important for me and for all the team here, with every airline,” he said.
But increasing its low-cost business would not be the sole focus as Shannon sets about increasing its numbers from 1.4 million to 2.5 million by 2018.
“There are very different and very distinct markets. I would like to see an increase in the low-cost traffic but look at today’s announcement. US Airways are a global brand, a global airline. That global connectivity Shannon has means it has a huge reputation, a very strong brand internationally, and we shouldn’t underestimate that,” Mr Pakey said.
US Airways’ executive Suzanne Boda described the charges deal the airline had got at Shannon as “very competitive” and said early demand for Philadelphia had met or exceeded expectations.
And SAA chairman Rose Hynes said that this summer, Shannon was connected to another international hub with over 100 onward conections inside the States or onwards to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.