After entering the transport arena with First Group, Pete Downes spent most of the last decade working at Bristol Airport, first as head of commercial ground transportation and more recently as head of aviation. In Apr-2018 he took up the position of aviation director at London City Airport and has already been able to celebrate key new route announcements from LOT Polish Airlines for new flights to Budapest and Warsaw in his first months in the new role.
What is your current job, responsibilities and what three words best describe your role?
The focus is very much on route development and airline relationships. It’s about leveraging the benefits of three things – partnerships, demand and expansion.
Where do you call home?
Originally Northumberland, but right now it’s London’s East End, overlooking the Thames Barrier. The pace of regeneration going on in this part of London now is incredible, and it’s becoming one of most exciting places in the city to live and work.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No two days have been the same in my first few months in the role. Generally, it’s either out meeting airlines, or here at LCY working on our strategy and future plans. It’s a nice balance, particularly in the early days as the internal work gives me the chance to meet people in the business and better understand our operation.
What are your main ambitions for the next 12 months in your role?
Work with our existing carriers to grow their frequencies, convert some more of our ongoing discussions into new routes, and then really get on with raising awareness of the opportunity our £480m expansion plan will create for airlines looking to expand in London over the next 5 years and beyond.
What is the biggest obstacle currently influencing the aviation business?
Within the UK, my personal view is that it’s still APD. Whilst the immediate focus is rightly on Brexit and the negotiation of new air services agreements, we shouldn’t lose sight of the punitive effect APD has been having on growth for a number years now.
What’s the best and worst career advice you have been given?
Worst? Forget about internal stakeholders and just focus on developing great relationships with your customers. I learned fairly quickly that you need to cultivate both to be credible and get things done.
Best? Always be prepared to make a sideways move if it puts you on a better track in the long run. The satisfaction you get from doing something you love will always outweigh the embarrassment of looking like a novice at it when you first make the change.
If you could switch jobs with someone, who would it be?
Working at an airport, you can’t help but envy those who get to fly for a living, but I actually don’t think I’d switch – the partnerships you build in route development, and the excitement of seeing new services expand and grow is something I wouldn’t want to give up.
What does the aviation business mean to you?
Ultimately, it’s given me the opportunity to turn a passion into a career. Even in today’s dynamic world of work, that’s incredibly rare and I try to remember that every day – especially when things aren’t going according to plan.
What book did you read last?
Bill Bryson, At Home.
What are your three most overused words/phrases?
Probably “Overall London Market”, “Brexit”, and of course the very British tradition of beginning almost every email reply with “Apologies for the delay…” irrespective of how quickly you respond.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see cast as you?
It would have to be somebody unknown – My life is definitely not “box office” enough to cast a star.
What is your favourite aircraft type (current or old)?
I would have to say the Boeing 757. Its field performance and range made it arguably the most transformational aircraft of modern times for non-hub airports – I think the level of interest surrounding a decision on its replacement really highlights how important it has been to our industry, and how much people love it.
Window or aisle seat and why?
London City Airport is one of the world’s great approaches and for anyone who loves aviation, it has to be appreciated from a window seat.
Favourite flying tipple?
An ice-cold G&T at 38,000 feet is always a pleasant reminder that you can still find a little luxury in modern air travel.
Favourite travel spot?
Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.
Which four individuals, living or dead, would you like to eat dinner with the most?
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Amy Johnson, Sir Bobby Robson and Buddy Holly
What do you do to relax?
I love to get outdoors – mountain biking, cycling or hill walking.
What keeps you awake at night?
What’s your secret talent that no one knows about?
I have a heavy goods vehicle driving licence (from my early days in transport) and have driven everything from double decker buses to tanks. Not necessarily well though… perhaps it shouldn’t be described as a talent.
People would be surprised if they knew?
I have a history degree and got into aviation purely by accident.
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