Earlier this year, John Holland Kaye announced he would be stepping down after almost a decade as Heathrow’s CEO.
It followed £4bn in pandemic losses, a battle with the CAA and airlines over airport charges and a difficult recovery from pandemic lows.
More successfully, he pushed to build a third runway which received parliamentary approval in 2018. Whilst there were some legal tussles in the years that followed, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the project in 2021.
It will, presumably, be a decision for the incoming CEO to make on whether to take those plans forward. That person is Thomas Woldbye, who has been leading Copenhagen Airport for the past 12 years and will now be in charge of Europe’s busiest airport. It is a major promotion for Woldbye, with Heathrow more than twice the size of Copenhagen.
There are some clues as to why Heathrow want him in their official press release:
“His ability to navigate complex stakeholder relationships has been a key factor in his success. Thomas forged strong links with the Danish Government, who are part owners of Copenhagen Airport, and fostered partnerships with airlines to drive investment and development, including significant recent expansions in terminal capacity at the airport.”
Two points immediately stand out: “complex stakeholder relationships” and “expansions in terminal capacity”.
The former is a bit of a tightrope walk. There is obviously complex unionisation at Heathrow, but Woldbye will also need to balance the interests of shareholders such as Ferrovial and the Qatar Investment Authority with those of the British Government, which would like a say in the airport but doesn’t hold an ownership stake.
His experience with capacity expansion will obviously be crucial in any future Terminal 2 extension and/or third runway project and suggests that Heathrow is keen to proceed with its plans.
It will be interesting to see how Woldbye grows into the role.