Busiest year ever for Scottish airports Aberdeen and Edinburgh in 2013

Scotland’s largest airports have enjoyed increased passenger numbers, with Edinburgh and Aberdeen having their busiest year ever, and Glasgow having its busiest in several years.

Edinburgh Airport saw an increase of 6.3 per cent in 2013 with almost 9.8 million people passing through. These figures make Edinburgh the fifth busiest airport in the UK and in terms of airport passenger numbers, the third biggest in the UK, following London and Manchester.

Aberdeen Airport also celebrated its busiest ever year, with 3.48 million people passing through, a 3.79 per cent rise on the previous year. Of those, 517,526 were helicopter passengers. The previous record of 3.43 million in 2007 was just prior to the economic downturn.

The addition of airlines such as Wizz Air and Lufthansa Regional and their new routes contributed to the growth of international traffic. Continued strong performance from the airport’s long haul carriers Emirates, United and Virgin Atlantic, contributed to the reported growth of 2013 as well.

Glasgow Airport enjoyed its busiest year since 2008, with 7.4 million passengers passing through in 2013, an annual increase of 2.9 per cent.

Airport officials see this as representative of a recovery from the recession which hit the whole of the UK aviation sector. This number growth suggests renewed confidence amongst airlines and passengers, but many airlines are still operating in what remains a difficult economic environment.

There may be more records broken this year. The biggest sporting event in Scotland’s history, the 2014 Commonwealth Games, will be bringing an unprecedented number of travellers to Glasgow this summer.

Edinburgh is ‘Best in Europe’

Edinburgh Airport has run away with the ‘Best Airport’ trophy at the ACI Europe Awards, shrugging off competition from six other hubs, including Birmingham, Cologne in Germany, and Marseille in France.

Held at the Estoril Congress Centre in Lisbon, Portugal, the ACI Europe Awards reward “excellence and achievement” in the aviation industry. Participants are nominated in one of four groupings according to the number of travellers handled at the airport during the previous year. Edinburgh, with annual traffic in the region of 8.5m, featured in the ‘Best Airport – 5-10m Passengers’ category.

“The airport excels in all the key areas of operations”, explained a press release on the ACI Europe website. “However, the judges singled (Edinburgh) out for the dedication of its management and staff.” Kevin Brown, Edinburgh’s managing director, said that he was “particularly pleased” that airport workers were responsible for the hub’s success in Lisbon. Mr. Brown noted that Edinburgh had battled volcanic ash, snow, and industrial action to emerge victorious at the awards ceremony.

Struggling airport, Bournemouth, stole the award in the ‘1-5m Passengers’ contest, while Antalya Airport in Turkey was the victor in the ‘10-25m Passengers’ category. Representatives from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, a “model in terms of efficiency”, returned to Holland with the ‘Best Airport – Over 25m Passengers’ award.

An ‘Eco-Innovation Award’, won by Zurich Airport, and a ‘WBP Recognition Award’, which rewards individuals who have contributed to the betterment of the aviation industry, were also contested this year. The latter accolade was claimed by Harry Diehl, former executive of German retail firm, Gebr. Heinemann.

The 2011 ACI Europe Awards, held on June 17, has been running for seven years.

Ryanair to cull winter flights

Michael O’Leary’s airline, Ryanair, is to make sweeping cuts to its winter services at a number of UK airports, including Prestwick and Edinburgh in Scotland, and Stansted Airport in Essex. The move, announced earlier this month, means that 9 of 32 destinations from Edinburgh, and 3 of 15 from Prestwick, will not be available during winter 2011.

Given that Michael O’Leary is a vocal critic of the Air Passenger Duty, it should come as no surprise that Ryanair has cited the tax as the impetus for the winter flight cull. “UK airports continue to suffer from high tourist taxes, which continue to make Scottish destinations uncompetitive”, explained Lesley Kane, sales chief at Ryanair.

Edinburgh Airport stands to lose flights to Berlin in Germany, Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, Marrakech in Morocco, Tallinn in Estonia, and Turin in Italy. The flights are not presently offered by any other airline at Edinburgh, forcing passengers to travel to Glasgow Airport for routes to Berlin, Turin, and Malta, to Manchester for flights to Marrakech, and to Luton or East Midlands Airport for a trip to Tallinn.

Bosses at the Turnhouse hub were unfazed, however, stating “…we’re confident that we will continue to add routes and mirror the growth from this year."

At Prestwick Airport, O’Leary’s axe will fall on routes to Girona in Spain, Salzburg in Austria, and to London Stansted. The cull marks the second time in as many years that Ryanair has reduced its winter programme at Prestwick, which will no doubt have officials pondering the airport’s overreliance on the blue and yellow airline.

Ryanair, one of just two ‘true’ airlines at Prestwick, will provide 12 of the total 16 routes available at the Scottish airport this winter. The remaining four destinations are offered by WizzAir, and package holiday companies, Atlantic Holidays and Holidays4U. Curiously, Iain Cochrane, boss at the Ayrshire hub, was “delighted” with Ryanair’s winter schedule, despite the loss of three routes.

O’Leary plans to ground 80 Ryanair planes in winter 2011, in a bid to offset the costs incurred from the rising price of oil.

Edinburgh battles the elements

While weather conditions often cause delays and cancellations at UK airports, few could have anticipated the chaos that “fierce winds” visited upon the Firth of Forth at the end of last month. In separate incidents on May 23 and 24, strong winds uprooted trees, damaged buildings, and tore the roof from a walkway at Edinburgh Airport.

The walkway, located in the southeast pier of the hub’s main terminal, leads to an area of the airport occupied by Flybe and Ryanair. The two carriers, which offer 18 and 36 flights from Edinburgh, respectively, operate departure lounges adjacent to the walkway. However, airport bosses say that passengers beneath the damaged roof were never in any danger.

Outside, on the airport’s runway, a fire engine was used to ‘shield’ planes from roof fragments, while five inbound aircraft were diverted to other airports. High winds were blamed for the cancellation of almost 90 departures and arrivals at Edinburgh on Monday last week. Wind speeds are alleged to have reached 80mph, or category 12 (hurricane force) on the Beaufort scale.

The British Red Cross says that 400 people were delayed or stranded overnight by the blustery weather and the eruption of Icelandic volcano, Grimsvotn, which grounded flights from KLM, British Airways (BA), Aer Lingus, and Ryanair on Tuesday, last week. Speaking about the cancellations, a BA spokesperson said that the flag-carrier would "never operate a flight unless it was safe to do so".

Red Cross officials referred to the situation as a “combination of freak weather conditions” that produced “lots of tired and cold families”.

Edinburgh, along with Aberdeen, Newcastle, Durham, and several other airports in the UK, has only recently been granted a reprieve from the threat of disruption, after fears about the return of Grimsvotn’s ash cloud persisted over the bank holiday weekend. The volcano ceased its grumbling on Saturday morning, though reports of Grimsvotn’s slumber did not surface until the following Monday.

Edinburgh urged to fund bus route

People living in Edinburgh have petitioned the British Airports Authority (BAA), asking for a new bus route between the city’s northwestern suburbs and Edinburgh Airport. The link, which would operate down Queensferry Road, would be paid for with some of the profits generated from the hub’s controversial £1 drop-off fee, implemented in October last year.

While the request may seem like retribution for forcing motorists to give up their hard-earned cash, the petition is only asking the BAA to comply with its own reasons for introducing the £1 levy. The operator implied that some of the money raised by the drop-off fee would be used to bolster the appeal of public transport, chiefly by encouraging car owners to leave their vehicles at home.

However, Alex Cole-Hamilton, local Liberal Democrat candidate, was unimpressed with the airport’s contribution, “it’s clear from what residents have told me that there are inadequate public transport links to the airport.” Mr. Cole-Hamilton noted that Edinburgh’s bus service, which is dominated by Lothian Buses, was insufficient for people travelling from the city’s northern areas, such as Newhaven and Muirhouse.

Exacerbating the problem is the news that a new tramline between Edinburgh Airport and the city’s waterfront has hit a £100m funding shortfall. Kenny MacAskill, candidate for the Scottish National Party, said that the cash-strapped project was a “mess entirely of the council’s own creation”, and refused to support pleas for additional funding from the Scottish government.

Whether the BAA can be encouraged to open its wallet for Edinburgh’s ailing transport network is debatable, but, given that the introduction of the £1 drop-off fee was a disaster for the airport’s reputation, the Turnhouse hub may find redemption in supporting community projects. Proponents of the new bus route say that the service would only need to operate once or twice an hour.

Scottish newspaper, the Scotsman, claims that around 1,000 people have signed the BAA petition.

Thomson unveils new routes for 2012

Beginning in summer 2012, Thomson Airways will be offering new long-haul flights from Edinburgh Airport. The routes, dubbed the “longest ever” by the Scotsman, will complement an existing flight to New York, currently, the only long-haul destination on the airport’s books.

Thomson will connect the Scottish capital to Cancún, Mexico, between June and August next year. Cancún is a resort located on the Yucatán Peninsula in the extreme east of Mexico. The city enjoys a tropical climate throughout much of the year, excepting the odd hurricane, and is famous for its aquamarine seas and modest Mayan structures.

Sanford in Orlando, Florida, will be the second long-haul route to be offered by Thomson in 2012. Known by the unusual nickname, Celery City, due to the nature of the crops grown in the surrounding area in the early twentieth century, Sanford is a landlocked city on the St. Johns River. Sanford may seem like an unremarkable destination, when compared to Cancún, at least, but Sanford Orlando Airport is within an hour’s drive of Disney World, making it an ideal starting point for fans of theme parks and cartoon oddballs. Flights to Sanford will operate from Edinburgh during July and August.

The introduction of Thomson’s new routes could reignite the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, by encouraging competition in the long-haul flights market. In Scotland, the sector has historically been dominated by airlines flying from Glasgow: the Abbotsinch hub offers routes to Toronto and Calgary in Canada, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and Lahore in Pakistan, among others. Glasgow also offers Thomson-branded flights to Cancún and Sanford, which will almost invariably lose passengers from the east of Scotland when Edinburgh’s summer 2012 campaign takes off.

Kevin Brown, chief at Edinburgh Airport, said that he was now looking to secure a route to a Middle Eastern airport, such as Dubai, to facilitate indirect flights to Asia and Australia.

Thomson boosts capacity at Edinburgh

Thomson and package holiday company, First Choice, are selling three new routes from Edinburgh Airport. The additions, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, and the island of Rhodes in the Aegean Sea, come just a few days after Luton-based airline, easyJet, introduced flights from the Scottish hub to Grenoble in France, the Greek capital, Athens, and the largest Canary Island, Tenerife.

Speaking about Thomson’s latest investment, Kevin Brown, chief at Edinburgh Airport, said that the three new destinations were “very welcome”. The sky-blue airline claims that the trio of routes will lure an extra 8,000 new passengers to the hub. Thomson, anticipating a boom in Edinburgh’s popularity over the summer months, has already increased capacity on its most lucrative routes by 23,000 seats.

Paul Cooper, manager at Thomson, told the BBC News website that a surge in demand for the three destinations prompted the expansion. However, with just 13 routes available from Edinburgh, Thomson remains one of the smaller airlines at the airport, behind easyJet with 23 destinations, and Irish carrier, Ryanair, with 39. Thomson currently has no competition on the route to Rhodes, but the airline will have to do battle with Michael O’Leary’s airline for passengers bound for the Canary Islands.

Thomson is also offering package holidays in Rhodes and the Canaries. A seven-day holiday to Rhodes, beginning on July 24 2011, costs in the region of £530pp for three-star accommodation, and £652pp for the five-star Atlantic Imperial Resort in Kolymbia, Rhodes. The route will operate between June 29 and August 17 2011. Holidays in Gran Canaria are available from May 7 to October 29 2011, and cost between £434pp for three-star facilities, and £888pp for “affordable luxury,” otherwise known as a cheap five-star hotel.

APD could damage Scottish tourism

A recent rise in Air Passenger Duty (APD) could seriously damage Scottish tourism, according to a report commissioned by the three largest airports in the country. The hubs, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, anticipate a combined loss of 1.2m passengers by 2014, if the travel levy is not reduced.

Introduced in 1994, APD is calculated by measuring the distance travelled between two airports, and then comparing the data to a list of tax bands, designated A to D by increasing distance from London. Europe, for example, falls into Band A, and generally incurs the lowest APD of all destinations. The USA and parts of North Africa are in Band B, while locations in the Caribbean are placed in Band C. The most expensive bracket, Band D, includes countries situated over 6,000 miles away from the UK, such as Australia.

The APD on flights to Band A destinations stands at £12 for standard class, up from £5 in 1994. Whilst the duty fee might leave a bitter taste, the levy is unlikely to break the bank for most flyers. However, family groups on long haul trips from Scotland to Argentina (for example), could be forced to part with up to £340 in APD, depending on their choice of seat class. The British Airports Authority claims that the APD on Band C and D locations could force 5% of long-haul travellers to rethink their holiday plans.

Aberdeen Airport’s new boss, Derek Provan, is concerned that the November 2010 rise in APD could begin to impact ‘lifeline’ services provided by air to Scottish islands, destinations that are currently exempt from the levy. Mr. Provan’s counterpart at Glasgow Airport, Amanda MacMillan, is more concerned about the impact of APD on tourism, “quite simply, if it is too expensive to fly to Scotland, tourists and airlines will go elsewhere.” The two directors, alongside Edinburgh’s Kevin Brown, have called for ministers to rethink “further taxation” of the aviation industry.

In terms of numbers, the APD could cost Scotland £77m in lost tourism, equal to 150,000 fewer international visitors a year. Domestic routes could also lose half a million people within the next three years.

No new runway until 2040, says the BAA

The British Airports Authority (BAA) has effectively ended hopes of a new runway at Edinburgh Airport for the next thirty years. The aviation firm cited a recent slump in customers as the impetus for the move, believing that an expected hike in passenger numbers to 13m per year will now take almost a decade, rather than the original estimate of three years. Kevin Brown, Edinburgh Airport’s managing director, said that the BAA was now “grounded in the reality” of post-recession Scotland.

Unveiled in 2005, Edinburgh’s ‘master plan’ predicted a £1bn expansion that would double the size of the hub’s physical presence before 2030. Every airport structure, from terminal buildings and car parks, to departure lounges and cargo areas, was set for an overhaul to handle a “surge” in passengers and aeroplanes. The Scottish hub was aiming very high – 18m new travellers in three decades, more than treble the number of regular visitors in 2005.

However, when the recession dawned a few years later, Edinburgh Airport, much like the rest of the country’s businesses, found itself at the mercy of customers’ newfound frugality. The home holiday, or ‘staycation,’ was crowned king, and the sale of flights and package breaks quickly fell away. By the end of last year, Edinburgh had lost 5% of its annual passengers, down from 9m in 2009, to 8.6m in December 2010.

The master plan had become a pipe dream, and a revision was commissioned in January 2011. Officials now say that smaller projects will take priority, such as improvements to transfer facilities, and the construction of new aircraft stands and hangars. The overall size of the airport, contrary to 2005 projections, will not change, but the hub remains determined to boost both passenger numbers and aircraft movements within the next decade, to 12.3m travellers and 141,300 flights, respectively.

Bosses at Edinburgh may be hoping that a sufficiently large increase in passengers will force the BAA to table a new runway proposal before 2040. However, airport boss, Kevin Brown, intimated that consolidation and "waiting it out" would come before Edinburgh invests seriously in its expansion plans, “(the airport) is keen to capitalise on the opportunities that will arise when our economy begins to grow again.”

The master plan will now enter a 14-week consultation phase, which will allow the BAA to refine its plans and liaise with the public, before the report is finalised.

Iceland Express plans homeland flights

If your lust for snow and ice hasn’t been satiated by the recent widespread snow flurries, then North Atlantic airline, Iceland Express, has a surprise for you. The carrier will begin flying from Edinburgh Airport to the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, from June 14th 2011. The route will encompass the airline’s first UK destination outside London.

Reykjavik, in western Iceland, is not only one of the hardest words to type on a keyboard, but an increasingly popular destination for British travellers, despite the island’s famously high prices. Iceland Express’s new route is the second UK-Iceland flight to be announced this year, after rival airline, Icelandair, began running flights from Manchester Airport to the island republic during November.

Ironically, despite the expansions by the two carriers, Iceland is perhaps better known amongst airline bosses as the worst thing to happen to aviation in decades, after resident volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, closed much of Europe’s airspace back in April of this year. However, the mountain, and its associated glaciers, is likely to be a huge draw for holidaymakers, providing of course that it doesn’t explode.

Iceland Express will also link Reykjavik to Belfast, via Edinburgh, and to Dublin in the Irish Republic. The airline, alongside Icelandair, provides flights to the United States from Reykjavik Keflavik Airport, opening up destinations such as New York and Chicago to passengers travelling from Scotland and Ireland.

Edinburgh-Reykjavik will operate twice a week until August 30th 2011. Matthias Imsland, CEO at Iceland Express, was convinced that his airline’s new route is unique, stating: “No other airline offers direct flights between these destinations and Reykjavik. We are delighted to fill this gap".