Q&A with Mike Seabrook
CEO of London International Airport.
Mike Seabrook lives and breathes aviation. Born and raised in London, Seabrook originally wanted to be a commercial pilot, but ended up studying business instead. He attended Western University, earning both honours and master’s degrees in business administration, before starting his career in 3M’s marketing department. When an opportunity arose at London’s airport, more than a decade ago, Seabrook got to fuse his passion for aviation with his brain for business. He would serve as vice-president for eight years before becoming chief executive officer. When he’s not working, Seabrook loves to be in the air. He’s a licensed pilot and built his own plane, a purple RV-8, which he flies a few times a month. When he’s not behind the controls or his desk, he loves spending time outdoors with his wife and three kids.
Q: The latest data indicates that more than 500,000 passengers now travel through the London Airport. What do you feel has contributed to the spike in growth we’ve seen over the last few years? A few years ago, we began to brand ourselves as the easy and comfortable airport. The way to do branding right is . . . to make sure all parts of your business conform to your brand. You can’t say you’re this and then not do it. We’ve worked very hard over the past few years in everything from signage to customer service agents, to our food and beverage service, so that we’re seen as friendly and easy. If somebody uses our airport, they like using it as opposed to the bigger airports that confuse and stress people out. The other thing that goes hand and glove with that is that we’ve been able to get more service in here. In the end, if airlines don’t add flights and don’t add more seats in here, then we can’t grow. If people like flying from here and make an attempt to do so, that reflects in better loads on the aircraft, more passengers. And the airlines reply to demand by putting out more supply. You know how that whole thing works. And we’ve got that process started. Last year, we lost United Airlines, but had other airlines add new service. Q: As Toronto’s Pearson Airport continues to grow into an international megahub, what residual affects do you see happening in London? Pearson Airport is getting near capacity, as defined by the number of takeoffs and landings they’re allowed in an hour. That limits them. Today, Pearson can have 90 takeoffs and landings in a given hour, that’s their maximum. They’re very close to that maximum today. And, obviously, they want to grow, too. They’re at 44 million passengers today and they believe that in 20 years, they’re going to be at 80 million. So if your runways can’t handle any more and you still want to grow, you have to stop smaller aircraft from coming in there. If you look at us, we have 37-seat aircraft that are used by Air Canada and WestJet that go into Toronto. Pearson doesn’t want that many small planes, because they’d rather have a 400-seat aircraft taking off on a runway slot, not the 37-seat aircraft. That should play into our hands.
eventually. Instead of nine flights from London into Toronto each day, maybe it’s four flights with a bigger aircraft and we start flying direct to destinations, instead of through Toronto. I think that’s how this things all going to unfold. Q: Rapid transit has been a hot-button issue this year. The current plan proposed doesn’t include airport service. How important do you feel it is to have the London airport connected to the city’s transit system? It certainly helps. Right now, we have bus service out here on a peak demand basis. But as our airport continues to grow, we need to realize that not everybody has cars and not everybody can afford taxis. We have a large student population base here that come and go at Christmas and Thanksgiving and holidays like that. So we do need to have public transit out here. We need to have something that’s affordable and accessible to help this airport and to help our community. It doesn’t necessarily need to be rapid transit, but we need to have the ability to get someone out here reasonably. Q: What’s the demographic profile of people who use the London Airport? Has it changed over the years? Traditionally, it was always heavier on the business traffic, and probably 10 to 15 years ago, would skew a little more towards the male. But that’s changed. It’s still heavy on the business traffic, but now I’d say there’s a pretty even split of male to female. We’ve also grown our service with WestJet and some of those lowercost carriers, so now we’ve got a lot of flights now to the Caribbean and Florida, which means we’re attracting more of the leisure traveller. Leisure travellers can be male or female, young or old, students, all of those things. And that’s really where we can make a lot of progress. If we can get low-cost carriers starting in Canada, they’re going to use airports like ours and that’s going to reduce prices, stimulate the market and help take people off the bus and off of Via Rail and bring them here. Q: How do you see these demographics shifting over the next decade? Part of it is related to price. If we can get the price down and make air travel more economical, then it’s going to be a massive transportation vehicle. Not that aviation is necessarily geared toward the affluent, but if you picture yourself as a student and you’re going home, Montreal or something, if things are tight and it’s $100 on Via Rail and $400 to fly, you’re probably take the train. But with these ultra low-cost carriers and the approach of bringing down prices, you could get that down to an area where it’s affordable and it’s quicker, then you can really grow the market. That’s why these ultra low-cost carriers have developed worldwide. Q: Do you see low-cost carriers as being the future of modern air travel? Partly. You’re always going to have the major airlines, the Air Canadas, British Airways, and Lufthansas of the world. There will always be a role for those. You’ll always probably have some in the middle, like WestJet, that fly domestically or within North America. And then at the far end you’re going to have the ultra low-cost carriers that really give you the bare bones service, but get you there as inexpensively as possible. I definitely see them taking over more of the market, but not totally dominating it. Q: In your opinion, what are the benefits to flying out of London versus bigger airports in the area like Toronto and Detroit? First off, it’s easier. Geographically, it’s 20 minutes from your home. When you arrive at the end of your journey, you’re not in Toronto and don’t have a three- hour drive through congested traffic. It’s just easier and more convenient. Certainly, this airport is not stressful. You walk in, you check in, you park. You can see where you go through your security screening. Your departure lounge is right there. You hop on the aircraft and you’re gone. There’s no stress. What we’re going to do as we grow this place is make sure we keep this same approach. Pearson, just by the sheer nature of its size means they can’t do what we can do, they’re big, they’re busy, and they’re chaotic. In the end, we hope to have good value and a really easy, comfortable, stress-free travel option for you.