The boss of Manchester Airport has quit amid a growing backlash over long passenger queues, staff shortages and calls from city leaders for management to ‘get a grip’ of the growing crisis.
Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports has confirmed this afternoon that Karen Smart has decided to leave the business after eight years.
Karen, who took on the Managing Director role at the start of the pandemic, has navigated the hub through the impacts of Covid-19, and has also led the start of its controversial recovery.
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It follows a turbulent few months for the hub amid a surge of passengers after the Government’s lifting of restrictions. Following a raft of redundancies during Covid and as bosses scramble to recruit staff to deal with growing demand, it’s resulted in ‘chaos’ across the hub’s departments, including airport-run areas like Security, as well as agency-managed processes like baggage handling.
This week, the resulting backlash from passengers led Blackley and Broughton MP Graham Stringer to challenge management to ‘get a grip or get out’.
But in a statement, Manchester Airport said Karen had decided to return to the south of England, where her family is based, to ‘pursue fresh career opportunities’. MAG has also announced that Ian Costigan will take on the role of Interim Managing Director and will be in charge of the recruitment drive said to be at the heart of solving the ongoing issues ahead of the summer.
Since joining MAG in 2013, Ian has held a number of senior positions in the business, including his most recent position of Group Transformation Director. Ian will work closely in this role with Ken O’Toole, MAG’s Deputy CEO, who has overall responsibility for the strategic leadership, development and operation of the Group’s airports. Ken’s focus in the short term, MAG said in a statement, will be on ‘driving the recovery of our airports’.
MAG CEO Charlie Cornish said: “Over the last two years, Karen has guided Manchester Airport through the most challenging period of its 84-year history, having made a major contribution to MAG throughout her time with the business.
“I am sorry to lose Karen after her years of valuable service, but also understand her desire to return to the South for family reasons and indeed to explore new career opportunities.
“While there are sure to be further challenges ahead, I am confident we will soon start to see the benefits of the recovery plans Karen has helped put in place and look forward to working with Ian and his leadership team to drive them forward.”
Prior to her role at Manchester, Karen was MD of East Midlands, and before that had a series of leadership positions at Stansted.
Ian’s other previous roles include Group Asset Management Director, Customer Service and Security Director and Business Change Director for the airport’s £1bn Transformation Programme.
Ken has been with MAG for ten years in a range of senior executive roles including Managing Director of Manchester Airport, CEO of London Stansted Airport, and Chief Development Officer working across the Group. Before joining MAG, Ken spent six years at Ryanair leading their route development and revenue teams.