The boss of growing airline Jet2.com says he is confident the holiday market will keep growing as cost-conscious consumers continue to prioritise their vacation time despite the cost of living crisis.
The company this week announced it was opening a new base at Liverpool John Lennon Airport – its 11th in the UK – in response to strong demand from passengers and travel agents. The first flights will start in March 2024 and the airline will initially fly to 20 summer destinations.
Jet2 chief executive Steve Heapy met BusinessLive at the airport – and said he believes his airline and holiday arm Jet2holidays will see continued growth across their networks.
The airline is based at Leeds-Bradford airport and already had bases at Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, East Midlands Airport, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Stansted. By this summer it will employ some 12,500 people across its UK operations.
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Mr Heapy said: “We were confident even during the pandemic, we were very strong financially. We had strong cash balances.
“We did an aircraft order for up to 146 aircraft during the pandemic, which some people thought was a bit risky, perhaps, but we were confident. We knew we were going to bounce back.
“For 2022 our capacity was higher than pre-pandemic. 2023 is higher than 2022. Now 2024’s higher than 2023. We’re back to well above pandemic levels. We’re very confident.
“The market is pretty robust. People are spending less on lottery tickets, on streaming services, on meals out, and are prioritising their holiday. And I understand why because we all need to get away. During the pandemic, people were saying holidays are good for mental health. It’s not good being cooped up. And it’s an essential purchase rather than a nice to have or discretionary purchase.”
Launching a new base is a big move for an airline – which is why Jet2’s Liverpool move was so well received at the airport and in the wider North West.
Mr Heapy said: “We launched two bases in 2017. And we launched Bristol in 2021. It’s not something we do every year and it’s something we consider very carefully before we do.
“The conditions are right now for launching. We’ve had lots of demand from the airport, from people in the catchment area and from independent travel agents. So it’s a great announcement to be making.”
Jet2 has seen rapid expansion at its recently-opened hubs, such as Bristol. Mr Heapy and the airline are confident that there’s more to come at Liverpool too.
He said: “Summer is on sale now from the 29th of March 2024. That will take us up to the end of October. Winter will go on sale this month. And depending on how customer demand goes – and from what we’ve heard so far it will be very strong – I think there’s a very good chance you’ll see growth in subsequent years.”
And he added: “I don’t want Liverpool to stay as a four-aircraft operation. I want it to grow over the coming years.”
The Liverpool move will create 200 jobs initially – but as Jet2.com grows at the airport, more jobs could follow.
Mr Heapy said: “It will grow in tandem with the growth in the operation. And I’m sure you’ll see further significant growth over the coming years.”
He added: “There are direct jobs associated with our launch, but there are also ancillary jobs and jobs at the airport, car parks, sandwich shops, hotels etc. So think it could be very good for the area as a whole.”
Mr Heapy’s business also includes Jet2Holidays. He said: “We’re the biggest tour operator in the UK now, and we’re still growing. But we’ve done that not because we wanted to become the biggest but because we wanted to be the best. And because we are the best we’ve become the biggest.”
The holiday business works with travel agents, rather than selling directly to the public. That network of agents in fact inspired the airline’s latest expansion.
Mr Heapy said: “We build very strong partnerships with these travel agents and work with them. There’s been enormous demand from travel agents in the area and I’m sure we’ll see great support from them.”