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12 May 2021

Businesses cannot ‘thrive’ on Zoom alone says airport boss

12 May 2021

Business travel will recover from the coronavirus pandemic as companies relying on virtual meetings cannot “thrive”, according to the boss of London City Airport

Chief executive Robert Sinclair claimed it is “easy to sound the death knell of business travel in the midst of a crisis”.

But he insisted he is “confident” demand will return.

London City Airport chief executive Robert Sinclair (PA Wire)

People travelling for work usually make up around half of London City’s passengers.

The lack of business trips during the pandemic has driven a collapse in passenger numbers, with a year-on-year reduction of 95% in February.

But, in an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Sinclair said: “While Zoom and Teams have definitely been very helpful in terms of allowing businesses to make do and function, I’m not as convinced that, going forward, it’s going to be the optimal platform for businesses to thrive.

“The fundamentals of human interaction, the desirability of actually being in front of people… will warrant continuation of business travel.”

A BA CityFlyer plane (PA Archive)

Attending events and developing relationships with clients is “very difficult to do” via video conferencing, he claimed.

A survey of 515 business leaders commissioned by the airport last autumn indicated that 64% see air travel as “key to their future prospects”.

Mr Sinclair said the most important measure the Government could take to encourage more face-to-face business meetings is to “reduce or preferably eliminate” the requirement for people to self-isolate on their return from international destinations.

The 10-day quarantine period for people returning to England from a location on the amber list – which covers nearly all countries – is “a bit of a blocker to a full recovery of business travel”, he said.

He described the rule as a “conservative approach” and expressed hope that it will be relaxed when the Department for Transport reviews its policy towards returning travellers on June 28.

Mr Sinclair, who started his role in October 2017, said London City’s “history and reputation” has been built on business travel, but there is “a very large leisure market that we are tapping into now”.

He expects the airport will have “a good summer” due to “massive pent-up demand”.

London City is forecasting that passenger numbers in August will reach 27% of what they were during the same month in 2019, climbing to 32% in September.

London City Airport (PA Wire)

BA CityFlyer has announced it will operate 26 routes from the airport this summer, including hotspot destinations such as Malaga, San Sebastian, Faro, Florence, Ibiza, Mykonos, Santorini, Nice, Palma and Split.

A £480 million expansion project at London City in August last year was halted due to the pandemic.

Eight additional aircraft stands, a parallel taxiway and new passenger facilities were completed, but a major extension of the terminal building has been delayed.

Mr Sinclair said he intends to restart the programme as he is “absolutely convinced that people in London are going to continue on our flights”.

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