Bernie Baldwin

Green lighting essential infrastructure upgrades opens up pathways to airport recovery explains chief executive Gordon Dewar.

It’s Scotland’s busiest airport and the 6th busiest in the UK following huge traffic development in recent years. Indeed, Edinburgh Airport’s ascent was in full swing with another record year in 2019 – when it saw 14,737,497 passengers – then the Covid-19 pandemic caused flights to come to almost a total standstill.

With lockdowns still taking place, the airport’s chief executive, Gordon Dewar, admits it is difficult to predict when traffic might return to something like 2019’s figure. “The impact of this awful virus is still being felt and will continue to for months and years to come. Because [the first] lockdown is over doesn’t mean recovery has started; that couldn’t be further from the truth. In Scotland we are experiencing local lockdowns and differences on regulations so it’s a complicated picture,” he elaborates.

“To give context, the number of people travelling through Edinburgh Airport over the summer months fell by 91% due to Covid-19. Just 785,000 people passed through the airport from April to September 2020, down from 8.4 million in 2019 and well down on initial 2020 estimates of 8.8 million made at the end of last year. Those numbers demonstrate the stark situation the aviation industry is in, the challenge it faces to recover and the importance of finding solutions to aid recovery,” Dewar observes. “It’s difficult to determine when we’ll see something similar to 2019, but certainly not within the next two years at least.”

Judicious investment is valuable at times like this and at EDI that has been led recently by adding strong experience to the team in the form of ex-Ryanair director of route development, Kate Sherry. “I’ve known Kate for a number of years and have always been impressed with her ability and knowledge of the sector – although I’ll be glad to be on the same side of the table as her now!” Dewar quips.

“Her experience speaks for itself, that’s one of the attributes that really appealed to us. At a time of unprecedented uncertainty, we wanted someone who knows the industry inside-out, knows how airlines think and knows how airports can adapt. I suppose the claim could be that Kate is almost poacher-turned-gamekeeper, but nothing could be further from the truth – she’s here to solidify and build on the strong relationships we have with our partner airlines. She will look at what other opportunities are there for us to grow our, and Scotland’s, connectivity to the world.

“Kate has had an immediate impact in helping us understand the situation from an airline’s perspective and that’s shaping our approach,” Dewar reports.

Other investment has been limited though. “Covid-19 impacted every aspect of our business and that includes our infrastructure spend where we had to reevaluate all of the planned projects and decided which ones to prioritise and which ones to delay,” says Dewar.

“The upgrade of our baggage system will continue, although it will be delivered slightly behind schedule due to lockdown. This £35 million upgrade will see brand new technology installed for scanning and sorting luggage, plus a larger check-in hall and an easier check-in process.

“Our East Terminus has just been completed and that’s a £7 million investment in a dedicated area for taxis and private-hire cars. It also provides a covered walkway to and from the terminal, a new bridge over the Gogarburn [river], a new PRM building and it’s part of a revamp of our Plaza area.

“All of that will feed into a much wider access project which will eventually see the construction of a new road to the airport,” Dewar confirms.