Winter Success for Scotland's Regional Airports

Passenger numbers at Scotland’s regional airports grew last month, heralding a positive end to the winter season.  Latest figures from airport operator Highlands & Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) show that its eleven airports handled 103,616 passengers in March, an increase of 5,507 (+5.6 per cent) on last March.  An early Easter and continuing growth in the energy sector helped boost passenger numbers.  Passenger numbers were up at Sumburgh, Wick John O’Groats, Barra, Kirkwall and Benbecula, while numbers at its largest facility, Inverness, were essentially static.  However, traffic declined at Campbeltown, Islay, Stornoway, Tiree and Dundee.

The figures also show that annual passenger numbers at HIAL have reached a four year high.  In the 12 months to March, passenger numbers across the group increased by 3.1 per cent to 1,297,676 – the highest since 2008/09 financial year.  The HUB visited the Inverness Airport headquarters of HIAL last week to speak to Managing Director, Inglis Lyon on developments across the airport group.

“This winter has seen some particularly strong growth, with passenger numbers up during every month of the winter season. In large part, this is a result of the upturn in oil related traffic at Wick John O’Groats and Sumburgh, a key sector for our business and one with real growth potential. Kirkwall and Barra have also been performing well, with significant growth at both airports,” he said.

“After a difficult period for the aviation industry, we are encouraged to see annual passenger numbers reach a four year high.  There are some challenges for the aviation business, with fuel costs remaining high and the UK economic outlook still weak.  Nevertheless, we are look forward to what we hope will be a busy summer season with additional capacity on several key routes and the launch of some fantastic new holiday packages.”

Inglis Lyon
Managing Director, HIAL

“After a difficult period for the aviation industry, we are encouraged to see annual passenger numbers reach a four year high.  There are some challenges for the aviation business, with fuel costs remaining high and the UK economic outlook still weak.  Nevertheless, we are look forward to what we hope will be a busy summer season with additional capacity on several key routes and the launch of some fantastic new holiday packages,” he added.

The start of the summer season, which runs from April to October, will see the return of international flights from Inverness to Zurich, operated by Helvetic Airways, and the launch of new package holidays to some of Switzerland’s top mountain resorts as well as the French Riviera. Flybe’s popular hub service from Inverness to Amsterdam has also started to be operated on a daily schedule.  Flights from Kirkwall and Sumburgh to Bergen, operated by Loganair, will resume in May.

Campbeltown is set to benefit from the launch of a new Sunday service to/from Glasgow on June 16, 2013 and Loganair will extend its Sunday service between Glasgow and Tiree, operating from mid June until the end of September.  Flights to Jersey will also operate from Dundee, from May 4, 2013 and Inverness, from June 8, 2013. Meanwhile, Flybe’s mid afternoon departure from Inverness to London Gatwick will also return from May 1, 2013.

HIAL is now looking ahead and with new medium-term contracts in the process of being finalised with its two largest customers, easyJet and Flybe, it is now looking at innovative business development techniques to expand its route network, while at the same time working to enhance the passenger experience.  Last month, HIAL became the first airport operator in Scotland to offer passengers free wifi across its eleven airports, a move that has been quickly replicated by others.

Its network development strategy has already seen it secure a new weekly winter route to Geneva with Flybe and discussions are in place, or planned, to add additional points to its schedule in the future.  The new Geneva route is being launched on December 21, 2013 and will be operated with a 118-seat Embraer 175.  It is currently planned to operate until February 21, 2014.

This is a fantastic addition to our route network and is a real vote of confidence in Inverness Airport from Flybe.  The success of their Amsterdam service shows that there is a strong appetite for direct international flights from Inverness,” said Lyon.  “Geneva is a perfect winter holiday destination, with a fantastic mix of visitor attractions and the stunning Alps on its doorstep. This is a real coup for Inverness Airport and we hope that passengers will support the new service.”

“We know that many Highlanders ski but in the past they have had to fly from the central belt. The launch of new direct flights from the Highlands to one of Europe’s most popular ski centres makes a winter ski trip more convenient and affordable. Equally, we have an opportunity to promote the Highlands and its many winter attractions to a Swiss audience and support our own tourism industry,” he added.

Air services in this remote part of the UK are essential and HIAL’s airports also play an important role in maintaining vital air links between Scotland and its many islands, supporting Search and Rescue (SAR) activities across the country and facilitating the significant offshore traffic supporting the oil and gas industry.  A number of strategies to maintain regular services across these areas are being discussed, while HIAL is looking forward to working more closely with Bristow Helicopters, which was recently awarded the contract to deliver UK Search and Rescue helicopter services on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

“Stornoway and Sumburgh airports have a long association with SAR services and we look forward to working with Bristow Helicopters to support their efforts.  Inverness Airport also plays an important role as a training base for Bristow Helicopters’ pilots and we welcome their commitment to develop their presence further with the provision of new SAR facilities at Inverness.  The Search and Rescue service provides a vital lifeline for communities across the Highlands and Islands and our airports are strategically well placed to support Bristow’s operational and training needs.”

Bristow Helicopters will assume Search and Rescue operations, on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, from Sumburgh on June 1, 2013 and from Stornoway on July 1, 2013.  From 2015 they will also begin operations from Inverness but in February 2013 began three months of Search and Rescue training from the Highland city in preparation for the start of the Gap SAR contract in the North of Scotland.


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