THE chief executive of Edinburgh Airport has questioned a decision to subsidise flights between Dundee and London with public money – claiming the move has “implications for fair competition”.
In an open letter, Gordon Dewar called on the Dundee City Council leader to justify the use of taxpayers’ money to retain routes to Stansted Airport – branded “vital” by the authority – when Edinburgh has 44 daily flights to the English capital.
Describing Dundee Airport as “publicly owned and loss making”, Mr Dewar said the council money would be better spent supporting a direct coach service to Edinburgh Airport.
It has been reported Dundee City Council will pay half the cost of running Dundee Airport’s new stand-in service to Stansted until a new operator can take over later this year. But Dundee council chiefs are tight-lipped about the value of their investment due to “commercial confidentiality”.
In his letter, Mr Dewar said: “From an economic appraisal perspective [Dundee City Council leader Ken Guild] would appear to be considering investing taxpayers’ money in saving a maximum of one hour’s access time but offering two frequencies a day to a single airport versus 44 frequencies a day to a choice of six London airports.
“Saving one hour’s drive at the Dundee end of the journey may therefore cost hours of waiting time in London waiting for a very infrequent service.”
He said he would be interested to hear the “economic justification” for the “saving between 20 and 60 minutes per passenger valued at something of the order of £2 per trip”.
Mr Dewar called for a meeting to discuss the issue and the “implications for fair competition and private investment in infrastructure for Scotland”.
Mr Guild said the London route had played an important role in the “ongoing regeneration of Dundee”.
He said: “We are keen that this service continues for the benefit of the city.”
Aviation expert Laurie Price, from Mott MacDonald consultants, expressed sympathy for Dundee’s position, arguing that, by Mr Dewar’s reasoning, Edinburgh Airport operations should be transferred to Glasgow.
He said: “As a private company, of course Gordon Dewar doesn’t want this but equally why is the tram link, being developed with public money, going out to the airport? How much public money went into that?
“I would imagine the subsidy going in from Dundee for air services from London is infinitely less than the public expenditure on the Edinburgh tram.”
Transport Scotland took a very political stance, insisting it will support both airports.
“We are confident there is a place for services from Dundee,” a spokesman said. “In Scotland’s increasingly competitive aviation sector we want to secure a future for the airport.”
Dear Councillor Guild,
I noted with interest the recent media coverage around the creation of a new route between Dundee and Stansted airports. In particular, I was interested in the assertion that Dundee City Council was devoting funds to making the route viable.
I have to say that given the significant travel options and minimal travel time between Dundee and the airports in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, we were surprised with the announcement the description of the route as ‘vital’.
I would seek clarification on the application of a ‘development area’ in this case and the double subsidy that a route subsidy represents when operating out of a publically owned and loss making airport.
Can I ask you to review your decision and meet with me to explore getting better connections between Dundee and Edinburgh Airport thereby using public funds more effectively?...
...Perhaps a better response to improving connectivity and accessibility through investment would be to consider supporting a direct coach service to Edinburgh Airport or perhaps seeking a route change from the existing Dundee-Edinburgh service.
It is my belief, that the cost of subsidy should be measured against the alleged ‘benefit’ of avoiding a maximum of one hour’s worth of travel, whether that is by rail or road...
...I would very much appreciate the opportunity to discuss this issue with you further where we can perhaps deal with the other issues of distortions of markets and implications for fair competition and private investment in infrastructure for Scotland.