Edinburgh Airport set for post-pandemic take off - Liz McAreavey

Liz McAreavey, CEO at Edinburgh Chamber of CommerceLiz McAreavey, CEO at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce
Liz McAreavey, CEO at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce
As we well know, business can be full of competing demands. This realisation was brought to light during a recent Edinburgh Chamber breakfast.

During the event, we heard an update on Edinburgh International Airport, a resounding success story that bolsters Scotland’s economy with an impressive £1.4 billion contribution, supporting approximately 28,000 jobs.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Edinburgh Airport witnessed exponential growth, outpacing all others in Europe with over 14 million passengers passing through its gates annually. It regularly opened up new international routes and new opportunities were emerging, until air travel was halted by the pandemic’s outbreak.

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Despite this setback, Chief Executive Gordon Dewar and his team utilised the time well, devising a robust recovery plan for when travel restrictions eased, which is now bearing fruit.

At the briefing, Gordon shared that the airport is recovering strongly, and it is projected to reach 95% of its 2019 passenger levels this year. The growth is set to continue, surpassing 2019 levels in 2024 and continuing to add growth to wide range of destinations all over the world. New routes are coming to Edinburgh, with each one creating opportunities for trade and cultural exchange.

Alongside this remarkable progress in passenger numbers and routes, Edinburgh Airport is committed to another crucial challenge that the aviation sector faces: Climate Change. Although the airport’s own operations are now carbon neutral, the overall impact of planes flying in and out of the city remains a concern. In response, the airport has taken a bold and pragmatic approach, collaborating with various stakeholders to mitigate the aviation industry’s impact on Edinburgh until more sustainable options are available - something that is likely to happen in the coming years.

Some of the initiatives include establishing a solar farm to provide power for the airport and others, partnering with an innovative Scottish renewables business to incorporate cutting-edge wind-power, working with public transport service providers to lower emissions through fleet improvements, and engaging with developers on a district heating scheme for major planned new housing and commercial districts.

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Despite the concerted efforts of industry to proactively address their impact on climate change, the urgency of the climate emergency has led to some groups remaining cautious when it comes to air travel, citing concerns around its environmental impact. This highlights the complexity of striking the right balance between developing strong international connections which are essential for our city’s success and embracing climate responsibility. This may seem challenging, but it is one which industry is addressing. With pragmatic and inclusive discussion among all stakeholders, both of these objectives can be addressed, ensuring a sustainable path forward for our airport and the community it serves.

To flourish as an international city, Edinburgh needs strong global connections, something of particular importance as we enter our exciting Festival season. It was pleasing to hear that Edinburgh Airport has emerged as the leading provider of transatlantic services in the UK outside London, with capacity more than tripling in the past decade. As a vital link for connectivity with North America, there is hope for fruitful discussions with US authorities to allow pre-clearance from Edinburgh and London Gatwick airports. The trade between the UK and the US is of immense importance, exceeding $260 billion in goods and services annually, and the two-way direct investment surpasses $1 trillion. Such pre- clearance would enhance the passenger experience and promote increased trade and connections between the UK and the US, bolstering the economies of both nations. Edinburgh Chamber has written to the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, and UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman, backing the move.

As Edinburgh Airport strives to maintain its growth trajectory, developing stronger international connections while addressing climate concerns is a challenge, but one that is being faced head on.

Collaboration and support from stakeholders, including politicians, businesses, and the public, are crucial to chart a sustainable path forward for this vibrant airport and its role as a gateway to Scotland.

Liz McAreavey, Chief Executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

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