This year, Travel Radar attended the 5th Annual British-Irish Airports EXPO, an event where airport staff, politicians, and individuals from all across the supply meet to talk shop.
The event is held in a large exhibition hall at the ExCeL Centre in East London. Walking in, you are met with a small village of stands, each relating to a different part of airport running. The sheer diversity of displays on offer really makes you appreciate just how much goes into the running of an airport.
There were stands for runway practicals, like sound barriers, arrestment beds, and even a remote-control aircraft tug, that the man attending the stand was more than happy to demonstrate. He seemed to be enjoying himself. There were stands for airport consultancy firms, logistics, and analytics; people who claimed they could improve the running of your airport without hiring any staff or changing flight schedules. There were stands for advocacy groups such as the World Birdstrike Association, whose aim is to improve aviation safety. And plenty of other things from fire extinguishers to reusable luggage tags.
There were also stands for the airports themselves. Gatwick had a stand about plans to move their second runway slightly to the left so it could be used for regular flights. Apparently, 12 meters of extra tarmac is all it would take for the runway to be certified for everyday use. At present, they’re only allowed to use it when the first one is out of action.
Nestled behind the stands in the corners of the room were three conference stages, where presentations and panel discussions were held throughout the day. Often there were multiple talks happening concurrently, so you had to pick wisely. I chose to watch Minister for Aviation Robert Courts talk alongside Industry leaders about how the UK can better serve its regional airports – keep your eyes peeled for an article on that soon!
The EXPO was less well attended than perhaps the organisers were hoping for. The conference dates just so happened to coincide with national rail strikes, which clearly prevented a number of people from attending. Perhaps the reduced crowds were responsible for the friendly atmosphere; it was easy to strike up conversations with strangers at the event, and industry figures had a lot of time to answer my questions. Check out our article on how airports are responding to the staffing crisis, in which I talked to Heathrow’s staffing manager Nigel Milton.