Edinburgh Airport’s long-haul connectivity and passenger numbers have come a long way in the last six years since it gained its independence from BAA.
Back in early 2012 the gateway only had one long-haul connection, but since being bought by Global Infrastructure Partners for £807.2 million on 23 April 2012 it has grown its long-haul network to today’s figure of 14.
The latest arrival is Dubai-based carrier Emirates which touched down its Boeing 777-300ER on Monday, 1 October at the start of a daily service from Dubai International Airport.
In tandem with a growing network, Edinburgh Airport’s passenger traffic has also grown strongly from about 9.1 million in 2012 to the 13.4 million in 2017 and traveller numbers are set to hit 14.2 million in 2018.
The airport is not finished yet and chief executive, Gordon Dewar (pictured left) speaking at the launch of the new Emirates service said route development and traffic is set to continue the uprward curve.
“There are 20 or more live prospects (short-haul and long-haul) that are being worked on at any one time by the guys here who are doing this for their day-to-day job.
“What we are finding is we are getting five to 10 (routes) a year and sometimes more, but you are never sure which ones will come in but you keep working on 20-30 of them because they are all credible and plausible routes,” he said.
There are challenges Dewar said: “You keep working with airlines that probably don’t know an awful lot about Scotland when you start that conversation and it might take three to five years to convince them that this is a great prospect for them.
“Hainan Airlines recently started to Beijing and I had to tell people in Beijing where Scotland was when we started talking, but it is the numbers that do the talking and the evidence in front of them from successful airlines.”
Despite Dubai and Beijing being added to Edinburgh’s route network there remains black spots in connectivity and extensive opportunites, but what cities and destinations is the gateway targeting now?
“The obvious gaps in North America are Boston and Atlanta, and we would love to see a Las Vegas one, but maybe not a year-round, maybe a winter one, and Dallas with the O&G market,” Dewar said. “There are lots of Chinese opportunities. Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, they all come along in their own time.”
“There is no India connection yet largely due to the structure of the Indian airline market, but we do not have a based airline here who flies there, so we have got to persuade airlines in other countries that we are the next best option. It is a tough gig but one we have been successful at.”
Dewar said securing Emirates was 10 years in the making. The airline arrived the same day that cost-restructuring Etihad Airways stopped flying to Edinburgh from Abu Dhabi and the exit of Etihad is likely to have been a key factor in the carrier’s arrival.
Etihad Airways culled its Edinburgh route as part of its restructuring strategy that has seen the cash-strapped carrier make changes to its network but Dewar has no concerns over the Emirates route.
“What was frustrating was Etihad was ahead of its business plan but they have had a restructuring and we were one of nine or 10 routes that were culled, some much bigger than ours,” he said.
“But yes, absolutely, that was the final opportunity to get Emirates over the line, as obviously it was a gap to fill to the UAE so that is fantastic. I think we would have got Emirates anyway, but that brought it forward a year or two. We will work with the people that want to work with us, but I don’t worry about Etihad, they were a great operator but it happens.”
Dewar is confident Edinburgh will continue to grow its network as it has come a long way in the last six years and he said the airport is all about offering customers choice.
“We know when we offer Scots the opportunity to travel they take it but even more importantly when we make Scotland more accessible from the outside, tens thousands of people want to come whether it is educational, business, tourism or they want to live and work here,” he said.
“All we are doing is taking the data that shows there is a pent-up demand for the Scottish market and putting that in front of airlines and showing them how they will make a profit by coming here and the evidence keeps saying they can be successful.”
The airport continues to undergo a transformation as part of a five-year £220 million investment in facilities to meet increasing passenger numbers, and aircraft activity.
Part of that is a new three-storey extension nearly finished to the airport’s terminal at a cost of £80 million which has seen the South East Pier extended to create new boarding gates and seating areas between gates 13 and 14 – all designed to support forecasted growth of up to 16.5 million passengers in 2021.
Dewar said: “We have grown our capacity at the airport by 55 per cent in six years, but unfortunately demand is above 60 per cent so we are still up against it, but this new extension we are standing in, takes us in front by 25 per cent so gives us three years headroom. We want to keep it there so we will keep building.”
He also said with a growing number of widebody aircraft flying into the airport from global markets it has created new opportunities and the market is responding so to meet demand it is developing its cargo handling facilities and infrastructure.
Dewar said there are currently three handlers based at Edinburgh Airport and airlines operating now have more hunger for the sector. “We know there needs to be a balance between revenue flows (for airlines) to make the route work. We work very hard, it is not our core business in that sense but we have partners that do this and we are working with them to develop facilities,” he added.
Edinburgh Airport certainly looks set to continue to grow strongly and build on its current position as the main gateway to Scotland for travellers and businesses alike.