Manchester seeks more no-frills airlines

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The Independent Online

Manchester airport fuelled concerns yesterday that the summer has been tough for tour operators as the company said it was wooing no-frills airlines to compensate for falling demand for charter flights.

Manchester airport fuelled concerns yesterday that the summer has been tough for tour operators as the company said it was wooing no-frills airlines to compensate for falling demand for charter flights.

The move came as the UK's second biggest airports operator reported a strong rise in profits.

It said the number of passengers flying on a low-cost flight from one of its four airports rose by three-quarters last year, while overall charter passengers slipped slightly.

Philip Ridal, the finance director, said this year would be "more difficult simply because charter has been slow", making it "hard to match" last year's profitability. Pre-tax profits for the year to 31 March rose to £50.6m from £11.2m, reflecting two years of restructuring.

Mr Ridal said: "The 14-day holiday isn't as popular as it used to be. The growth in overseas properties [owned by UK residents] means people are moving towards using scheduled services."

MAG, which owns Manchester, Nottingham East Midlands, Bournemouth and Humberside airports, said passenger numbers rose 9.4 per cent to 25.4 million in the 12 months to 31 March. This reflected a recovery in scheduled services at Manchester and continued growth in the low-cost carriers at Manchester and Nottingham East Midlands, MAG said.

The group paid out a £16m dividend to its 10 shareholders: Manchester City Council owns 55 per cent of the group, while the nine districts comprising Greater Manchester each own 5 per cent.

Mr Ridal said the group'srecent decision to overhaul its corporate governance reflected its shareholders' long-term commitment. "A sale is not on the agenda," he said. MAG now has seven independent directors, against three executive directors. Two councillors also sit on its board.

The group said it "significantly reduced" charges to airlines at Manchester last year, while freezing charges at its other airports.

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