Ex-apprentice named as new boss at Exeter Airport

A man who started his career as an engineering apprentice has been named as the new boss of Exeter Airport and will look to oversee its recovery after the Covid lockdowns pitched it into a £3.3m loss.

Stephen Wiltshire has been appointed managing director of the Devon aerodrome a year after previous MD Matt Roach stepped down.

Mr Wiltshire, aged 47, has been operations director at Exeter Airport for the past 12 years and before that was operations director at Blackpool Airport for six years.

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He started his career as an engineering apprentice with British Aerospace at Filton near Bristol, where he is from originally. It was during a placement in air traffic control operations as part of his apprenticeship that he got the bug for airports, becoming operations and facilities manager at Filton before moving on to Blackpool in 2003.

Mr Wiltshire said: “I’ve always enjoyed airport operations and the variety that involves, whether it’s day-to-day passenger operations, hosting the Red Arrows display team or helping pioneer one of the very first hybrid electric aircraft flights in the UK, which we did last summer.

“Exeter Airport plays a vital role in our regional economy and despite the difficulties the industry has faced through the pandemic we are confident of a strong recovery, evidenced by the 28 domestic and international destinations currently scheduled from Exeter.”

Andrew Bell, chief executive of Regional & City Airports (RCA), which owns Exeter Airport, said: “Stephen has been an integral part of the airport’s leadership team for many years. His experience and knowledge will be hugely valuable in this new role, as he leads the airport’s recovery and cements its position at the heart of the South West’s future economy.”

Outside of work Mr Wiltshire is a keen golfer, enjoys supporting the Exeter Chiefs rugby team, and likes exploring the South West region. He lives in Exeter with his partner and two teenage sons.

Exeter Airport is owned and operated by RCA, part of Rigby Group Plc. RCA is the UK’s leading regional airport operator and also owns and operates Bournemouth Airport, Norwich Airport and Coventry Airport, and holds management contracts for Blackpool Airport and Solent Airport.

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Like many regional airports, Exeter’s was badly affected by the Covid pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions. In September 2020, East Devon District Council approved a £1m bailout to stave off a “worst case scenario” of closure.

Accounts for Exeter and Devon Airport Ltd for the year to March 31, 2021, showed a 73% fall in turnover, down from £24.2m to £6.4m, leading to an operating loss of £3.3m – a huge 531% increase on the £528,000 loss made in the previous, non-Covid, year. Passenger numbers plummeted to 27,000 from 953,000 and the 21,000 flights were fewer than half the number in 2019/20 (43,000).

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William TelfordBusiness Editor, Plymouth Live