EDINBURGH Airport has become the first Scottish terminal in history to exceed ten million passengers in a single year.
And the record-breaking feat has been achieved against a “backdrop of the highest aviation taxes in Europe”, airport bosses claim.
In the year to June, a total of 10,032,288 travellers passed through the doors of Scotland’s busiest airport, fuelling hopes it will further expand its portfolio of destinations.
The news comes on the day a lucrative deal was announced with Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates national, who will launch a new year-round daily link to Abu Dhabi from Edinburgh – its first Scottish connection.
Edinburgh Airport enjoyed its busiest June on record last month, bolstered by recent route launches to Chicago, Doha and Philadelphia.
A total of 993,758 passengers travelled through the terminal in June – up 3.8 per cent – while international traffic increased by 5.5 per cent to 561,718 passengers.
It is hoped the positive trend will continue throughout the 2014 holiday season, and perhaps even eclipse a high watermark from last July and August when more than one million passengers travelled each month.
Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said new routes in the Middle East and North America were in its sights to further strengthen the terminal’s international reach.
He said: “Middle East operators are the crossroads of our aviations between Europe and Asia.
“They are all expanding vastly. With Qatar, Etihad and Turkish airlines, we are giving people more choice and making it easy to get to Australia, Phillipines, Thailand, India, with ‘one hop’ via the Middle East.
“They are big markets.”
“We have got a long to-do list that we are constantly working on, making sure every year we are getting a good mix of new destinations and new operators,” said Mr Dewar.
Having passed the ten million target in 12 months, Mr Dewar is now targeting that figure for a calender year.
“Our forecasts suggest it’ll be close this year but more realistically 2015,” he said.
“We’ll be working very hard to achieve that. It’s been a real team effort and we are extremely lucky to have the backing of a range of private and public partners across Edinburgh and Scotland.
“Any growth in this climate is difficult but it is even more special given the backdrop of the highest aviation taxes in Europe.”
Mr Dewar said he was keen to see more connections to an array of destinations, not only to offer choice to Scottish travellers but also to draw more tourists to the Capital and beyond.
And he revealed the airport was trying to secure ten to 12 new connections at any time.
Eager to expand the Capital’s links to North America – including Air Canada’s summer-only operations to Toronto – the airport is considering further connections to popular US destinations.
Mr Dewar said it would be a major boost for the airport to broaden both the Toronto and US Airways’ Philadelphia connection to a year-round service.
He added: “New York is such a popular destination. There may be room for flying into JFK airport. We are also looking at Washington, Boston, and other American locations.”
Edinburgh Airport’s year-on-year passenger figures significantly outshine its Glasgow counterpart – with 2.3 million more travellers choosing the Capital than its rival.
Mr Dewar said: “We are in competition with every other European airport.
“We believe Edinburgh is better placed to win new links.
“We will make that case to airlines.”
But expert Laurie Price, head of aviation strategy at consultancy firm Mott MacDonald, said the figures should be celebrated cautiously.
He said: “Simplistic numbers are great – they are good to make statements to investors – but visitors to Scotland will be looking at the exchange rate and other factors.
“You’ve got to look at the economic factors, and the total market dynamic.”
“Be really pleased about it, but don’t get carried away.
“What Edinburgh and everywhere else needs is long-term commitments, throughout the summer and the winter.
“You can have very different results in February and November but I’m sure the new tram link will help.”
Aside from securing new worldwide connections, improvements are constantly being made to the airport’s infrastructure.
A new extension – designed to improve access to the terminal from the new tram stop – will open in October.
The project is part of a £150m investment package over five years to allow the airport to compete on the international stage.
Mr Dewar said the airport was constantly evolving to continue as a pacesetter in the market. “We are already looking at a host of smaller and larger projects in the coming years,” he said.
“We expect to spend £15-20m most years on infrastructure.”
Although a site for a second main runway at Edinburgh has already been earmarked, it is not projected to be required for another 30 years.
In the short-term, improved capacity for check-ins and the baggage system are high on the list of priorities.
And for Edinburgh as a destination, Mr Dewar said attractions like Edinburgh Castle and Edinburgh Zoo had reported a direct link between increased flight connections and footfall at tourist hot spots.
He said: “We have got world-class facilities and attractions across Scotland but we need to bring people here. We are not just talking about five million people in Scotland, we are also talking about the seven billion in the rest of the world that haven’t been to Scotland yet.”
Mr Dewar said there would be a “big celebration” if the ten million passenger figure was reached in the 2014 calendar year.
And he trumpeted Edinburgh’s status as the fifth busiest airport in the UK.
“We are the third largest city in Britain [in terms of airports] after London and Manchester – given our population,” he said.
Edinburgh Western MSP Colin Weir, who chairs the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on aviation, said the airport’s continued success was having a valuable impact on the economy.
“It’s fantastic news for the city and the country,” he said.
“Everything that gives us direct links makes Edinburgh more competitive in terms of business and obviously tourism.
“The more flights that go to direct destinations instead of heading through places like Heathrow or Gatwick makes such a difference.”
Mr Weir said fewer connecting flights would also mean that people will not have to pay as much air passenger duty.
“The improvement in route development at Edinburgh Airport over the past year is in spite of passenger duty,” he added.
“The airport is a real driver for the city.
“Edinburgh is leading the way in Scotland. It’s a fantastic performance.”