Posted on Wednesday 20 January 2010 by Ulster Business

Brian Ambrose

Brian Ambrose - George Best Belfast City Airport

Leaders in Business - Brian Ambrose has been at the helm of George Best Belfast City Airport during some of its most successful and controversial times. We hear more about the former Short Brothers apprentice and get a hold on the challenges facing the airport.

Brian Ambrose knows the aviation sector intimately. He began his career with an apprenticeship at Shorts then followed several years within the aircraft design team. It wasn’t until 1997 that he joined the Belfast City Airport as operations director and oversaw the construction of the current terminal before being installed as Chief Executive when Bombardier sold the airport to the Spanish infrastructure giant Ferrovial in 2003. Currently Ambrose oversees some 115 flights in and out of the airport each day. As East Belfast’s second largest employer the airport has 1,500 personnel, including 41 different businesses located on site and handling some 2.6 million passengers each year. 2009 saw Belfast City Airport buck the trend in terms of aviation. While many of the UK’s leading airports recorded a double digit percentage decline in passenger numbers due to the ongoing economic conditions, Ambrose oversaw 2.5% passenger growth outshining the likes of Heathrow, Manchester, Edinburgh. Continuing investment by the airport’s owners, ABN Amro, has seen Ambrose’s shareholders continue to back his plans for improvements at the airfield. Having wholeheartedly supported the runway extension, (a decision on which is imminent) the owners rubber-stamped a £10 million infrastructure investment which has already witnessed the creation of a new departures lounge, increased security capacity, conferencing facilities and new set down/drop off area externally. It’s investment such as this that supports a strong portfolio of partner airlines including bmi, flybe, Ryanair, Manx2 and the most recent addition of an easyJet service to London Luton, the latter an airline which Ambrose believes will add further services from the City should the Luton service prove successful. Away from the airport, Ambrose completed his second year as Chair of the CBI in Northern Ireland, a demanding role in itself as previous incumbents will testify. He was also appointed Chairman of the charity Mencap in Northern Ireland. 2010 looks set to be as busy and potentially successful as last year. Ambrose has made no secret of his ambition to capture 15% of Northern Ireland’s direct European market – a natural progression given the City now covers every major airport in the UK. A further £10 million of foreign investment is promised by the shareholder should planners give the green light to the runway extension which will allow airlines to fly direct to European destinations. Next month the World Duty Free is due to open in the new departures lounge with the final internal works completed by Easter. Continuing to exceed the expectations of his customers is a key long term goal for Ambrose and he and his team aim to set new standards within the industry. While the current terminal was built with expansion in mind, Ambrose is adamant that development of the remainder of site will go-ahead, most notably the addition of a hotel which will cater for the four million passengers a year that Ambrose has set his team as a principal objective over the next five years. Although his own business has performed well last year Ambrose believes a tough year lies ahead for the local economy. He believes linkages between business and government must be strengthened to address certain issues, including optimising the £1.5 billion infrastructure programme for 2010; focusing the skills agenda to assist our most ambitious companies to grow; implementing innovation and export opportunities; facilitating access to finance for businesses facing a demanding year ahead; ensuring the planning system processes applications in a timely and efficient manner – an issue obviously close to his heart. Over the years, Ambrose has installed a team who care passionately about the business and are committed to its ongoing success. As to his own success and inspiration, Ambrose attributes that to a series of leaders he has reported to including Sir Roy McNulty at Bombardier, Luis Sanchez the previous chairman from Ferrovial and current chairman Hans Meissner.


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