Major investment programme delivers the new face of London Luton Airport

25 April, 2018

As annual passenger numbers have almost doubled since the start of the decade, London's Luton Airport has undergone its own transformation to keep pace with the growing demand. Driven by growth in the Low Cost Carrier (LCC) sector, mainly from easyJet and Wizz Air, the Bedfordshire airport, almost 30 miles north of the UK capital, has been the fastest growing of London's established airports since 2010 with annual traffic levels soaring by more than 80% from 8.7 million passengers in 2010 to almost 15.8 million last year.

It is a long time since it was immortalised for its holiday traffic in the 1970s Campari adverts and the famous Lorraine Chase words 'Nah, Luton Airport' in answer to the romantic question 'were you truly wafted here from paradise?'. The aviation industry has changed a lot since then and despite its then terminal building still forming part of its current airport infrastructure, the facility is almost unrecognisable. It may not be paradise - not many airports are - but a GBP160 million investment has certainly transformed the airport to support the needs of the modern passenger.

This has already delivered 14 new retail stores at the airport, including big brands like Ted Baker and Hugo Boss, while Oliver Bonas has chosen London Luton for its first-ever airport store. A total of 30 new stores are due to open in the terminal by the end of the year as part of the redevelopment programme and a transformation that will see an expanded terminal footprint providing more seating and eight new boarding gates.

A key part of the investment will be on enhancing the airport's connectivity and work is shortly due to begin on a light rail system, delivered by Luton Borough Council, which will reduce the journey time between central London and the airport to just 30 minutes. The 24-hour MPT (mass passenger transit) will connect the nearby Luton Airport Parkway station directly with the terminal, replacing a current shuttle bus service.

Over 1.2 million passengers travelled through the airport in Mar-2018, as the airport experienced a record-breaking Easter. This was the 14th consecutive month that over one million passengers have passed through the airport with easyJet (Palermo and Genoa in Italy, Reus in Spain and Dalaman in Turkey ) and Wizz Air (Bratislava, Slovakia and Bari, Italy) adding to their operations.

The Blue Swan Daily analysis of OAG schedule data highlights how easyJet and Wizz Air capacity growth has been behind the airport's traffic rise. Since 2010 the two airlines have together added 5.31 million seats to the their summer inventories (easyJet - 2.17 million; Wizz Air - 3.14 million) with easyJet increasing its based fleet and Wizz Air finally opening a base (the airport has been its main network point for many years despite not having based equipment).

CHART - The LCCs have been the main drivers behind London Luton's growth this decade and its two largest partners - easyJet and Wizz Air - now account for more than 80% of its system capacitySource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

Now the airport has a new minority investor with specialist global investment manager AMP Capital acquiring a 49% shareholding from Ardian, which alongside majority shareholder Aena had been behind the recent transformation work having acquired its stake back in 2013. AMP Capital already has airport interests in Australia and last year added Leeds Bradford airport to its UK acquisitions, which also includes Newcastle airport in the north east of England.

The Blue Swan Daily caught up with Simon Harley, head of business development at London Luton Airport, at the recent AIRLINE Total Networking air service development forum in the UK capital to find out more about recent changes at the airport and its strategy for development.