A successful year at EMA – and more to come

By Steve Griffiths, EMA’s Managing Director


It’s a year since I took up the reins as Managing Director at East Midlands Airport (EMA).


It’s a year in which EMA has seen its first proper summer season since Covid, with 2.7m passengers travelling through the airport so far this year – a 21% increase on last year. And I’m looking ahead to an equally buoyant autumn and winter period, with a further 1.5m passengers expected to be welcomed at EMA this year.

It’s great to see passenger confidence return and to see them choose EMA in such large numbers. It reflects the fact we offer people an effortless travel experience - one that we know people are prepared to travel from across the Midlands and beyond for.

That’s because we have a great reputation as a convenient, easy-to-use airport, which is obviously something we are keen to hold onto and enhance. We’re an airport that’s small enough to care, with our great staff providing a warm welcome and a hassle-free start to people’s holidays.

Most EMA customers are seamlessly through security within 15 minutes, enabling them to relax and start to enjoy their holidays. There’s a great range of food, drink and retail outlets to keep everyone happy before they’re ready to catch their flight, and 60 popular European destinations to choose from.

I joined Manchester Airport Group – EMA’s owner – as Chief Operating Officer in 2018 and was Managing Director at London Stansted Airport prior to his move to EMA. I have previously worked as Chief Operating Officer for Virgin Atlantic as well as for London Underground.

During my first year in post, EMA has continued its post-pandemic recovery, with passenger numbers at 80% of pre-pandemic levels and peak summer months reaching over 90%. Meanwhile the airlines that base aircraft at EMA – Ryanair, JET2.com and TUI - have increased their fleet sizes, with Ryanair now operating eight aircraft and JET2.com seven. In the peak summer months TUI were operating five aircraft compared with three last year and coupled with this investment, brought back three additional routes this summer to Antalya (Turkey), Hurghada (Egypt) and Gran Canaria. Eastern Airways, which operates the Newquay routes, added daily flights to Paris Orly and Aer Lingus Regional took on the popular Belfast route.

Investing in the airport

But I’m not resting on my laurels because while we have high levels of customer satisfaction, we want to further improve their experience, and investment over the next five years will do that. More than £120m is committed which will result in improvements to passenger facilities to further enhance the customer experience including even faster security, as well as changes to car parking systems and a programme of work to maintain and enhance airfield operations. Longer-term, further investment will be committed towards realising a masterplan for enhancing and adding to the facilities for cargo operators, building on EMA’s status as one of the UK’s most important hubs for express air freight.   

The first bit of work is due to get underway later this year, which sees the expansion of our security hall in preparation for new scanning equipment to be installed. This work will not only enhance the look and feel of the security hall, but will speed up the process even more.

I’m keen for EMA to appeal to a wider catchment area, with its central location right next to the motorway network a key selling point and 30 million people within two hours’ drive. I also want to build on its growing reputation for accessibility, with its popular Assisted Travel service among the reasons EMA is shortlisted for this year’s Accessible Airport Award and won the Business Disability Forum ‘Disability Smart Inclusive Customer Service’ award this year.

Decarbonising airport operations

EMA is also at the forefront of looking at ways to decarbonise aviation. It is part of East Midlands Hydrogen, a partnership looking to maximise on the potential of hydrogen which is due to be produced at the Ratcliffe power station site. EMA could be one of the largest users of hydrogen in the region, with an estimated demand for around 700,000 litres of liquid hydrogen a day by 2050 – the year the global aviation industry has set to reach net zero. We’re also in talks about the increased use of other Sustainable Aviation Fuels.

We’re serious about doing what we can to decarbonise our airport and the wider aviation industry. We’re committed to our target of net zero carbon operations by 2038. We also continue to do all we can to be a good neighbour to our surrounding communities, including reducing the impact of noise on them.

Seamless international trade from EMA and growth with EM Freeport

The airport’s positive impact on the wider region and its economy is significant and perhaps surprising for those who only see it as gateway to European holiday destinations. That’s because EMA is also the UK’s largest dedicated air cargo hub, providing connections to 185 of the world’s largest cities and handling around 440,000 tonnes a year.

The airport’s position in central England, a stone’s throw from the motorway network and just over 100 miles from central London, means that it’s perfectly placed to serve the whole of the UK, with 90% of the population of England and Wales a four-hour lorry drive away. It’s one of the reasons why each of the three logistics giants, DHL, UPS and FedEx, have chosen EMA as their main UK hub, forming part of their US-UK-Europe network.

The cargo operation at EMA is a hugely exciting side of the business, delivering seamless trade that powers the UK. We’re an asset of national significance and play a pivotal role in driving the economy. The significant cluster of businesses in the advanced manufacturing, aerospace, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and automotive sectors in the region rely on us to move predominantly high-value goods quickly and efficiently around the world. When the cargo operation kicks into gear as the last passenger flight of the evening leaves, it really is a sight to behold.

EMA’s importance as a cargo hub has attracted investment in and around the site, such as the huge logistics park at East Midlands Gateway. The new East Midlands Freeport, with EMA acting as the port, promises to increase this growth by offering tax and customs incentives for new developments on and around the airport.

We will use our central England location and the benefits of the Freeport to help us position EMA as the UK’s best placed airport for facilitating air cargo, to attract new cargo airlines which we have capacity to accommodate. As the port of East Midlands Freeport, a popular gateway to Europe for a growing number of people, an early adopter of green innovation in the aviation industry and a site at the heart of the country with further untapped potential, I believe there is a bright future for us.