Stansted Airport boss, Ken O’Toole, on Brexit, passenger numbers and transport links to city

Ken O'Toole, the chief executive of Stansted Airport. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Ken O'Toole, the chief executive of Stansted Airport. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Stansted Airport boss Ken O’Toole is hopeful that under Boris Johnson’s Government, plans to reduce the Stansted Express journey time to 30 minutes or less can progress.

Speaking in March this year, Mr O'Toole, chief executive at Stansted Airport, said calls for decreasing journey times to and from the airport had fallen on "deaf ears" in central Government.

However, talking to this newspaper earlier this month, Mr O'Toole described the Government headed by Mr Johnson as "much more aligned to large scale investment and key infrastructure projects".

"If you look at what they [the new Government] have talked about in terms of commitment to High Speed 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, there's a big emphasis on essentially the integration of transport policy. We, for the last 60 or 70 years, have not had joined up strategy in regard to road, rail and airport transport policy, and that's the sort of big agenda item that if we start to join these things will drive improvements," he said.

Mr O'Toole insisted that his target to reduce the journey time from the airport to London Liverpool Street station to 30 minutes or less is "deliverable" and could be achieved through digital signalling and introducing a four track system, pointing out that Network Rail has been instructed to review aspects of the line. The journey currently takes closer to an hour, according to Stansted Express' website.

And what about the other governmental upheaval, much closer to home? In November 2018 the airport's application to increase its annual passenger throughput from 35 million to 43 million per year was approved by Uttlesford District Council (UDC), then Conservative run. However, in the May elections, local party Residents 4 Uttlesford swept to power and councillors voted in June not to issue the planning approval notice, deciding instead to refer the matter back to the planning committee, defying legal advice from council officers.

Mr O'Toole said: "The new administration needs to get themselves comfortable with the decision that was taken by the previous administration. They referred it back to a planning committee, which is their right, so we are waiting to hear the results. Our job is to make sure people understand the facts and the true facts, and not the spin and innuendo."

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He could not be drawn when asked what the airport would do if the approval notice was not ultimately issued, "right now the ball is very much in UDC's court," he said.

Mr O'Toole explained that his vision for the airport and getting the go-ahead to increase its passenger capacity by eight million are "inexplicably linked".

"We want to promote long-haul routes, we want to encourage short-haul operators that will bring the most environmentally friendly and intensively used aircrafts. We want to put more bums on to existing flight movements. And it's that combination which will actually facilitate us going from 35 to 43 million passengers per annum, without needing anymore flight movements than we are already prepared for," he said.

When asked if he thinks there will come a point that the airport will have to increase its number of flights from 274,000, he said: "We will commit to three things, two of which are important from a local perspective. We will commit that we are not going to increase beyond the 274,000 and we will commit to a lower noise footprint than we are at the moment."

Turning to Brexit, Mr O'Toole says his personal view is still that it is better to remain in the European Union, and explains Manchester Airports Group, the airport's owner, doesn't want to leave without a deal in place.

"What is a big inhibitor at the moment is a lack of certainty and the lack of clarity, its affecting consumer confidence, its affecting business confidence. We will exit the EU and that's fine, we will get on with life in that scenario. Our preference now is that we do it in a phased and orderly manner and not at a cliff edge on October 31, which I don't think will be good for anybody."

It will be two years in September since Mr O'Toole took up his post. Reflecting on his role, he said: "We work in aviation, every day is a challenge. Every day brings a different challenge. The word 'turbulence' has many applications and that's part of the appeal of the industry. It is never the same two days in a row."