England’s midsize factory heartland drives travel rebound at Birmingham Airport

Corporate travel is booming again at Birmingham Airport, in a sign that the midsize family businesses that make up England’s factory heartland are headed back on the road to step up customer outreach.

Business travel at the airport exceeded 100 percent of 2019 levels in October, Chief Executive Officer Nick Barton said in an interview. The facility is on track to reach about 95 percent of pre COVID-19 volume for the full financial year ending in March, he said, in a sign of a strong outlook.

Smaller manufacturers typical of the Birmingham area lack the large global reach to keep tabs on distant customers.
They still rely on top executives to travel overseas and meet clients in person to maintain business ties, even as larger corporations cut back over cost and sustainability concerns.

The SME culture is “a very strong characteristic of this region,” Barton said, referring to small and medium-sized enterprises.

Birmingham is situated in the West Midlands, a stronghold for the steel and automotive industries, hosting companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, GKN, and Rolls Royce Holdings Plc. The airport has the second-highest proportion of business passengers after London Heathrow, according to Barton, who previously ran the Luton and Stansted hubs.

Although London airports have reported a traffic rebound since the pandemic, their business travel hasn’t fully returned. Heathrow said in October that levels were almost back to pre COVID-19, while Gatwick said in the summer that passenger numbers for some business flights were still below 2019 figures.

The UK’s automotive industry was hit hard following COVID-19 and the country’s exit from the European Union but data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders published last month showed car production was back on track in November.

“As the world shifts to zero emission motoring,” the West Midlands is well placed for growth, said Mike Hawes, the SMMT Chief Executive Officer. “Vehicle manufacturing across the UK has shown resilience, recovering after the challenges of COVID-19, supply chain constraints, and Brexit uncertainty.”

Birmingham Airport is currently in discussions with Cathay Pacific and Finnair for flights to Asia as it looks to grow its range of business routes, Birmingham’s Aviation Director Tom Screen said.

Emirates, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and Turkish Airlines are among the airlines which offer global routes from Birmingham.

“Despite all the challenges and concerns about the cost of living crisis, we’re seeing a really high level of resilience with customers,” Barton said.

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