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Question and Answer John Lennon's boss talks about revolution in the air; Barry Turnbull hears of Neil Pakey's ambitions to rival his old stamping ground along the M56.

Byline: Barry Turnbull

LIVERPOOL John Lennon Airport's new managing director, Neil Pakey, candidly admits to being aware of some spin doctor-style tactics while he was on the payroll of rival Manchester Airport.

While lobbying for airlines business it was not uncommon for the `Mancs' to derisively claim that half of Liverpool's catchment population were fish.

Official government figures show that the catchments of each facility are very similar but clearly some people do not let the fishy facts get in the way of a good yarn.

These days of joined-up thinking and regional co-operation means that the two great cities, as well as the airports, are supposed to be working for the greater good.

Naturally, in practice this means little as Manchester Airport demonstrated when objecting to Peel Holdings' plans to open up a former Vulcan bomber base to passenger traffic in south Yorkshire.

Pakey is also responsible for this base, RAF Finningley, near Doncaster, as part of his aviation brief from Peel. He remains phlegmatic: ``I think there are similarities in the two situations I have found myself in. When I joined Manchester in 1984 the passenger numbers were 6m but there was a momentum about the place, a lot of people were responding to challenges.

``We won some important business as the region matured and became a bigger player in world terms and of course Manchester's passenger numbers are now up to 18m.

``In Liverpool now we have that great team spirit and a feeling that we can go on and achieve more. People know there is a real buzz about the place.

``As for comparisons, I just think every business has to have its own agenda although that doesn't prevent co-operation, and I think Manchester has recognised our role as a low-cost carrier.

``In saying that I can't say I am not disappointed that they decided to oppose our expansion plans in south Yorkshire.''

Despite being a 15-year man at Manchester Ringway, Pakey immediately jumped at the chance of joining the air revolution on Merseyside. Peel, which had bought Liverpool from the local authorities in 1997, sold him the possibilities of expansion and development.

By this time, 1999, easyJet and Ryanair were on board as major customers and Pakey could see that low-cost carrying was becoming an unstoppable force.

``easyJet was very much seen as the anchor tenant, if you like, that could drive the development of the whole airport. I could see that it was all a very good proposition and that things were moving forward, there was an excitement and challenge about coming to Liverpool.

``I have been involved with easyJet and the guys are astute negotiators but we found there was much more collaboration rather than confrontation and so it has been a good partnership.''

However, it is the low cost airlines' merger with rival Go that has opened up a new gamut of possibilities for Liverpool. easyJet's policy thrust has been to launch routes and then try to build up frequency.

Pakey says that the airport's ambitions have been to create connections with all the major European cities, a much greater likelihood now the Go deal has gone through, because the enlarged group will have a much wider range of destinations.

But he is not just shopping in the budget department for the MD sees development potential in the holiday market.

``We know that Merseyside generates around 25pc of the North West holiday traffic and yet the airport still has only 3 or 4pc of the market. Thomson, for instance, has increased its business from a few thousand a year to 120,000 but you would hope there would be scope for further business.

``I think one of the difficulties has been the perception that Merseyside residents are quite happy to travel to Manchester. A lot of the operators appear to think this is still the case while of course we know that this could not be further from the truth. This is something we continue to work on.''

The past year has been an outstanding success for Liverpool with throughput continuing to soar and facilities much more in keeping with a modern airport. Pakey says it was Peel chairman John Whittaker's visit to John Wayne Airport in Orange County that may have helped fashion prospects over and above his pledge to invest tens of millions of pounds in Speke.

The glass frontage of that airport has influenced Liverpool's look while using the name of a high profile individual has also resonated in the unveiling of the John Lennon sign.

Peel's arrival in 1997 has led to the eventual withdrawal of the local councils, formerly shareholders in the airport. The company which also owns the Trafford Centre has kept its word about investing in the facility and currently plans are being debated at Liverpool City Council about a further extension to the terminal.

This particular development has raised some concerns, especially from the National Trust which objects on the grounds that vibration and airborne pollution hazards have not been fully considered and that visitors to Speke Hall will suffer increased noise.

Pakey is a little less assured on the point and the reason why becomes apparent when he Status: Married, two young children Holiday: France (wife is half French) Team: Used to watch Liverpool when former schoolmate Steve Nicol played. Keep fit: Former runner, now plays 5-a-side.

Ambition: Realising Liverpool Airport's full potential Interests: Member of the National Trust.

confesses to being a member of the National Trust.

He explains: ``I have been aware of the concerns and I know they will be addressed by the city council. All I will say is that I think we help attract visitors to Speke Hall and I am sure we can continue to successfully co-exist.''

Scotsman Pakey was born in Troon and was educated at the University of Westminster. Working life began at Scotland's Prestwick Airport, experiencing the sharp end as a ramp agent on the apron for British Caledonian.

It was in 1984 that he switched to Manchester as an operations manager and formulated the company's first corporate plan. Achievements included attracting ten new airlines to the airport, a track record that led to a secondment at the European Commission where he was involved in work on the liberalisation of air transport policies.

There was also an exotic spell as marketing director for Air Seychelles, based in the Pacific island for two years. In 1994 he returned to Manchester as general manager and made the switch to Peel in 1999.

Aside from work Pakey is interested in athletics - he ran middle distance - and also used to play schools football with former Liverpool star Steve Nicol. Now he gains his inspiration from those who achieve in the sporting arena.

``I admire Steve Redgrave and yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur. Redgrave because he achieved his goal time and again and in doing so proving that being a diabetic is no handicap. MacArthur similarly for her single-minded determination and proving that men don't necessarily have the advantage in a sport relying on strength and endurance.

``I used to run middle distance and won a couple of races - county and polytechnic level - and used to train with Brian Whittle who went on to win a European gold medal despite famously losing his shoe.''


TAIL-SPIN: The minions at Manchester airport would downplay their north west rivals. Since then Neil Pakey has moved across and has now taken the helm to ensure blossoming Liverpool Airport gets a bigger slice of the `in-flight' pie
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 18, 2002
Previous Article:Bill Gleeson's column.

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