Gordon Dewar: Airport growth must be in balance with communities

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Growing an airport isn’t easy. Particularly when the airport needs to grow at some pace.

An airport is a big thing, and I don’t just mean physically. Edinburgh Airport supports around 8000 jobs. It’s the main portal for a large part of our country’s visitors and it’s a major conduit for our country’s growth.

A lot of our job is providing the infrastructure and the environment, both in terms of commerciality and service, for airlines to flourish at Edinburgh. That gives us choice and connectivity. And that choice and connectivity, if done properly, brings growth.

It is growth that we’ve been wrestling with in 2015, whether in managing our security hall or check-in process, or outwith the airport, our current departure route trial. Put simply – we are growing because of Scotland’s and Edinburgh’s success and have a responsibility to provide the capacity to accommodate that success.

This trial sees around 13 per cent of our departures routed north over Uphall, threading though the area between Linlithgow and Queensferry before following the Forth as they climb and turn south over Musselburgh at around 13,000 feet.

It’s our growth departure route, servicing the new and growing destinations in Europe and the Middle East that our passengers and our partners tell us they want. The much discussed China route, for example, would use this departure route.

Our terminal was built almost 40 years ago and was designed for 1 million passengers a year. As we do more than that in a month in the summer peaks, we’ve had to grow. Equally, we need to look at the airspace around the airport. It too was created 40 years ago and needs upgraded. And like any new infrastructure, the impact of that upgrade needs to be balanced against the communities it affects.

Hence the trial.

It’s difficult. We know this trial is disrupting the lives of a number of residents along the new flight path and we certainly don’t want that. They don’t care, understandably, about the economic and capacity challenges that we’re wrestling with. But we have to explore ways we can continue to grow.

We’ve worked hard to make sure the flightpath affects the smallest number of communities. Where possible, it uses current flight paths and flies over rural areas and water. But inevitably, there are some communities, particularly Uphall, Dechmont and Ochiltree that are being affected by noise.

Residents and MSPs have been 
critical of us about the fact that this trail wasn’t preceded by a full consultation. I can understand this view but we need to do the trial to have a firm proposal to consult on. We’re operating the trial under Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) guidelines and it is content with the way we’re going about it. The trial allows us to test the flyability of the route in terms of the criteria set down by the CAA. Noise is a major aspect of this and we are measuring it and tracking every plane.

We’ve a permanent noise monitor at Broxburn and we have a mobile monitor that we’re moving to spots along the route. It’s been in Ochiltree; it’s now in Broxburn.

This gathers information on who exactly is affected and how they are. All feedback is being logged and replied to and will be submitted to the CAA to be used as part of their deliberations on whether we can move to a full Airspace Consultation Process. It’s at that point that we’ll have a firm proposal to take to communities and their representatives and will conduct a full consultation, using the data gathered at this trial period to make sure we fully understand the impact. It’s also then that we can begin to be creative in terms of noise mitigation and compensation should it be required.

We understand that an international airport can be a difficult neighbour, especially one that is growing. But I can assure you that we’re working hard to balance the effects of that growth on those who live close to us.

Gordon Dewar is CEO of Edinburgh Airport