Edinburgh Airport – Branded as ‘Where Scotland meet the World’ – is going places
Scotland’s busiest air gateway, Edinburgh Airport handled 10.2 million passengers last year – its busiest ever for passenger traffic, up by 4% on the figure of 9.8 million recorded in 2013. According to chief operating officer David Wilson, that rapid growth in traffic can partly be explained by the increasing number of visitors to Edinburgh (and Scotland more widely, drawn by such events as the very popular annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the 2014 Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow and the 2014 Ryder Cup which took place at Gleneagles in Perthshire) as well as by the airport operator’s ambitious growth strategy.
Edinburgh Airport is owned and operated by a consortium led by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). GIP acquired the gateway as recently as 2012 and, since then, it has invested heavily in driving growth. The airport has seen an expansion in European short-haul services and in an area of key focus for the operator: long-haul point-to-point routes. For example, Qatar Airways began flying B787 ‘Dreamliners’ to Doha in May last year, while Etihad will begin flying to Abu Dhabi in June this year.
Edinburgh had in the main traditionally handled Code C type aircraft, and the arrival of larger aircraft on routes to the Middle East and to North America forced the operator to reassess its stand sizes and pavement layout. All the stands on Edinburgh’s West Pier were reconfigured to handle larger aircraft (the airport welcomes A330-200s, as well as B787s, B767s and B757s and the occasional B777 charter). A new Multiple Apron Ramp System (MARS) configuration with realigned centre lines and new docking guidance systems (supplied by Safedock – Edinburgh only uses Safedock DGS) has allowed the gateway to handle larger numbers of these bigger aircraft types, while remaining efficient and safe.
And remaining safe and efficient is vital, says Wilson. It was his job to ensure not only that the infrastructure changes introduced were brought in on budget and on time, but also that ongoing airside operations were impacted as little as possible. Thanks in part to close collaboration with third-party service providers and other partners, including ground handlers, airline representatives, air traffic control (NATS) and industry regulators, the highest possible levels of efficiency and safety have been maintained – as evidenced by passenger surveys consistently giving high marks for service quality and by ‘on-time’ punctuality data.
Moreover, if it were possible, Wilson says, there are now even higher standards of airside safety on aircraft pushbacks, apron driving standards, secure loads and more. All in all, “The airport hasn’t missed a heartbeat in our operations despite the major capital projects,” he insists.
While some of the funding for the various airside improvements has come from reinvested revenues, GIP has also backed Edinburgh Airport Limited to the tune of a £150 million (US$228) capital investment programme covering the 2013-18 period. Some of that money will be spent this year on the eastern side of the airside arrivals terminal building and on further improvements to stands 10-14. With regard to the latter, the same methodology will be followed as was used for the West Pier, with a switch to a MARS configuration.
Further development of check-in, baggage handling and other capabilities is also taking place, all in time for the summer peak period. “It’s been very challenging, but very rewarding,” Wilson assesses.
The emphasis, at least for the moment, will be on optimising the value and efficiency of current resources, he continues. Only when airside assets are operating at 100% efficiency and there remains little by way of redundancy in assets such as stand numbers will there be a need to look toward wholly new apron infrastructure. When that time comes, however, he expects GIP to continue as it has done up to now – investing in the gateway to support its aggressive growth strategy.
With the centenary of Edinburgh Airport taking place next year and plans already in hand to mark that milestone, it seems like there is plenty more still to come from Scotland’s busiest airport.