Stansted Airport's 30 year anniversary muted by Covid-19 pandemic

  • Watch a report by ITV Anglia's Matt Hudson

As London Stansted marks the 30th anniversary of the Queen officially opening the new terminal building in 1991 it's faced with a crisis the kind of which has never been seen by the aviation industry before.

The COVID-19 pandemic has grounded all but essential flights and the aviation sector is faced with continuing uncertainty over when travel might resume.

Before the pandemic the airport had about 28 million passengers a year flying to almost 200 destinations. But in the last 12 months the number of passengers passing through its doors have dropped to levels last seen in 1994.

While the airport's bosses hope foreign travel will restart in May, they won't know until next month when the Government is due to reveal its strategy.

"It's also been difficult for the changes that happened throughout the last 12 months as we see in the air corridors, we've seen other countries close down, opened up, so we've been up and down throughout that 12 month period," Jon Fowler added.

  • Watch how ITV Anglia reported the opening of the new terminal in 1991

The modern Stansted was created by the development of a new £400 million terminal and world class airfield infrastructure in 1991 that transformed the original airfield that began life as a World War II American bomber base.

Four days after the official opening the new terminal welcomed its first passengers for the first departing flight, an Air UK service to Glasgow, and greeted its first arrivals when an Air France flight landed from Paris. Since then, nearly 460 million passengers have passed through the Lord Foster designed building on 3.95 million flights.

During the pandemic though Stansted's terminal building has all but fallen silent and the airport has been closing early each evening. The majority of aircraft using the airport now are cargo flights bringing freight in from around the world.

It's been a similar story at the region's other airports. The owners of London Southend have published a series of discussion papers focused on a sustainable future for the aviation sector.

Southend Airport

The report's authors call for the government to pay for COVID-19 testing and maintaining medical centres in airports, extend business rate relief for airports through 2021-2022 and to temporarily suspend Airline Passenger Duty (APD).

They're also asking ministers to work more collaboratively with the aviation sector to achieve the 2050 net zero ambitions and identify where support can propel the industry forward post-pandemic to support vital regional economic recovery.

  • Watch a clip of Glyn Jones, CEO Southend Airport

The environmental impact of aviation is high on the agenda for carriers and airport operators. Luton Airport has recently welcomed the first of a new generation of aircraft operated by Wizz Air. The Airbus A321neo is the first of its kind in the UK.

The airline says the aircraft provides maximum fuel efficiency, with 20% fuel cost savings and a nearly 50% reduction in noise footprint compared to the previous generation of aircraft.

It's also claimed that the engines reduce fuel burn by 16% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 50%.  

  • Watch a clip of Owain Jones, MD Wizz Air UK

Air travel has changed considerably in the 30 years since the Queen opened the new terminal at Stansted. The sector is seen as vital to the economic recovery from the pandemic and there's optimism within the industry that thing's will, eventually, return to normal.

Southend Airport’s Chief Operating Officer Willie McGillivray says “Flight habits won’t change and there’s a lot of pent-up demand. People want to fly.” The key question is when will things return to normal.