From provincial airstrip to international hub – Edinburgh Airport is taking off

by Scott Douglas

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Edinburgh Airport TowerA version of this post first appeared in the Edinburgh Now section of the Daily Record.

You don’t have to be long in the tooth to remember when the wee airport on the outskirts of Edinburgh was known as Turnhouse – and the limited number of flights meant hardly anybody had reason to visit it.

My, how that provincial airstrip has grown.

Now Edinburgh Airport is the ‘Gateway to Scotland’, the busiest airport north of the border and a thriving business and tourism hub that welcomes the equivalent of the population of Stirling through its doors every day.

Holiday flights in and out of the city are booming, while the airport is the essential business transport link between Scotland and London.

It has just notched up its first ‘million passenger month’, with 1,082,938 people passing through in July, 448,000 of them on domestic flights and 634,000 on international journeys.

All of which must involves some very uncomfortable growing pains, right?

Powerful reputation

Nope. In fact Edinburgh has just been named as one of the top five airports in the UK for customer satisfaction, according to Which?, the consumer champion. That’s on top of being crowned best airport in Europe in its size class for a third consecutive year.

It’s quite an achievement, juggling sustained growth while keeping the travelling public onside.

Edinburgh Airport has pulled off a very clever trick: it still feels like a welcoming, small town airport, that is neat, orderly, easy to navigate with short queues and quick baggage reclaim. Yet it is now the fifth biggest in the UK in terms of passenger numbers.

Since 2007 it has handled more than nine million passengers annually, while it is projected those numbers will rise to 12.3million by 2020. Edinburgh Airport is taking off and we should be clear, this is very good news for the city and its businesses.

As chief executive Gordon Dewar put it when they hit July’s million passenger landmark: “We always say that a good airport reflects the city it serves. Anyone who has been on the Royal Mile recently knows that Edinburgh is jumping at the moment. We’re proud to play our part in this and are optimistic that August will be just as busy for us.”

The ongoing success has been delivered in a low-key and businesslike fashion. It quietly slipped past Glasgow International in terms of passenger numbers in 2007 and handles more than double the freight that Glasgow does.

With figures like those, new owners Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), were delighted to secure the airport for £807 million in 2012, when BAA was forced by the Competition Commission to sell it off.

Proven track record

GIP, an investment fund, run by a small group of mega-money men, also owns Gatwick and London City airports. Typically it spends seven years improving assets before selling them on for a significant profit.

They have a proven track record of investing in technology to reduce queues and improve the passenger experience and of attracting new airlines and new routes, all of which will further cement the advantages they inherited.

It may be more luck than design that the terminal sits just five miles from the city centre at the nexus of the City Bypass, the M8 and the M9/M90, meaning it is easily accessed from Glasgow, Lanarkshire, the Lothians, Fife, Falkirk, Stirling and beyond.

When the publicly-funded trams finally start running they will roll right into the airport, giving it another vital transport link. Accessibility is so good that Edinburgh folk with flight check in times that avoid the rush hour can sling holiday suitcases in a taxi and be wheeling them through the airport concourse just half an hour later.

Perhaps most crucial of all to the continued success of the Airport is a sense of place. The focus is entirely Edinburgh-centric.

Respected boss Gordon Dewar, an Edinburgh man who is in his second stint of running the airport, has spoken of the commercial freedom he gets as the chief executive of a “liberated Edinburgh Airport”.

He answers to a board of directors who meet in the city and he has told business leaders: “We take decisions in Edinburgh, and Edinburgh is our only concern. That is a refreshing change.”

The air of optimism seems well-placed as there look to be clear skies ahead for the airport – with the boost that will bring to the city in terms of trade, commerce and tourism.

 

 

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