Aisha Iqbal: We need more than a flight of fancy for the future of Leeds Bradford Airport

Leeds Bradford Airport. Photo: Danny Lawson/ PA Wire
Leeds Bradford Airport. Photo: Danny Lawson/ PA Wire
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I don’t like things that are big and show-offy for the sake of it.

That’s why I’m forever telling my husband off for his obsession with all things motorised and electric and – to my slightly more minimalist tastes – gaudy.

Biggest jets could land at Leeds Bradford, chief executive says

How flights from Leeds Bradford are tracked from ‘the best office in the airport’

So I have no desire to see Leeds Bradford Airport pimped up to Qatar or Singapore or even Heathrow proportions.

However I do want it to just be...better.

Better, and of a quality our city deserves and can be proud of.

Better, in this instance, means more user friendly, easier to get to, a bit more choice when it comes to pre and post flight shopping and dining (but not necessarily a dazzlingly designer duty-free).

Yes, there are some factors – like transport links – which are not completely in the company’s control, and they are, to some extent, at the mercy of the Government and decision-makers and signer-offers of the day. But there’s more to it.

LBA is a perfectly functional facility on the whole, but that is not meant as a compliment.

‘Functional’ is hardly what our city and our region should be aspiring to.

In the half a dozen or so times I’ve flown from LBA, it has been a decidedly underwhelming - and more often than not annoying - experience.

I used it purely for convenience - even though even that was pretty inconvenient (and expensive), with taxi fares, car parking stress and luggage-lugging woes all adding to the irritating mix.

I don’t think I’m alone in my thinking. Some of the (very recent) reviews on a major aviation-related consumer website would certainly suggest a lingering malcontentment – above and beyond mere logistics issues - among the holidaying West Yorkshire masses when it comes to their local airport.

Comments like “still not fit for purpose after many makeovers” and “it’s not a pleasant place to sit and relax before a flight” make for depressing reading. And a quick straw poll in the office drew comments such as “get rid of the £3 Kiss and Fly tax”, “there are no decent cafés”, “it’s too cramped” and more.

This despite the fact that the airport is obviously a huge financial success, with 100,000 people a week flying out in the summer peak, and adding £336m to the local economy. That’s not to be underestimated or devalued. Neither is the commitment of the hundreds of ordinary people who work there. But these people are invariably the ones without any real say in bringing about fundamental changes.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to put people before profits anyway?

It was exactly a decade ago that the airport was sold off by West Yorkshire’s five district councils for £145m to private firm Bridgepoint.

Biggest jets could land at Leeds Bradford, chief executive says

How flights from Leeds Bradford are tracked from ‘the best office in the airport’

Devolution was, at that time, just a twinkle in Ministers’ eyes, although there were certainly early wishful whispers of Yorkhire getting some autonomy from Whitehall. The journey since 2007 hasn’t always been smooth, but the airport’s significance in the wider fortunes of the region has grown massively.

Any city or region with real ambitions needs an airport to match, a global gateway for all those potential investors and workers and tourists.

So it’s time for the airport’s bosses to up their game, especially with renewed talk of Yorkshire-wide devolution now gathering momentum and rumours of a Christmas deal of some sort.

The long-talked about airport masterplan - which aims to triple passenger numbers and makes lots of other impressive pledges - really needs to motor now.

Leeds City Council’s proposals for a new LBA parkway station, as part of a wider transport improvement plan, are looking more hopeful than ever. And the prospect of the city getting a long-desired new airport link road is also good.

But we need to see results, not endless talking shops.

It’s now up to our politicians and airport bosses to get on that runway – and help the region’s airport dream to really take flight.

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Biggest jets could land at Leeds Bradford, chief executive says

How flights from Leeds Bradford are tracked from ‘the best office in the airport’

PIC: Simon Hulme

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