Alastair Dalton: Still room for improvement at Edinburgh airport

Edinburgh Airport announced another Scottish record yesterday, but all has not been well at the booming terminal.
The airport puts all it's problems down to growing pains. Picture: Ian GeorgesonThe airport puts all it's problems down to growing pains. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The airport puts all it's problems down to growing pains. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Figures showing the airport handled an unprecedented 1.3 million passengers last month will be welcomed as good news after a string of bad publicity earlier in the week.

That started with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rating Edinburgh as the worst in the UK for looking after disabled flyers. Then the RAC highlighted that Edinburgh had among the highest pick-up and drop-off parking charges.

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But these have been by no means the only examples of arguably self-inflicted negative publicity. There have been chronic security queue problems over several years, and a row with coach operators in February about transporting France fans to a rugby international at Murrayfield.

In 2013, chief executive Gordon Dewar admitted the airport had come “close to the edge” when record passengers threatened to overwhelm the terminal.

The airport puts all these down to “growing pains” and officials bristle at the suggestion they are not working hard enough to improve things.

They also dismiss comparisons with rivals Glasgow, pointing to the west coast airport’s bigger terminal and more space to expand.

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Glasgow is only just returning to its pre-recession record passenger levels, but with facilities like its security hall built to accommodate more.

However, Glasgow is itself now seeing significant growth, including more than a million passengers in July. In fact, it grew marginally faster than Edinburgh over the past year at nearly 10.5 per cent.

Despite that, there appears to have been no sign of problems there, even with a – relatively – emptier terminal building. Glasgow also had to contend with major traffic surges, such as for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

I’m told the way the two airports are run is quite different, but that it’s nothing to do with the fact a woman – Amanda McMillan – is in charge in the west.

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Certainly their branding conveys very different messages. While Edinburgh is where “Scotland meets the world”, Glasgow is “Proud to serve Scotland”.

Glasgow was praised in the CAA mobility report for providing a consistently good service, while the regulator criticised both the company involved at Edinburgh, and the airport management for lack of oversight.

Industry sources tell me that Edinburgh may have been focused on all-out growth, perhaps even at the expense of other things.

There have been rumours it was being lined up for sale by owner Global Infrastructure Partners, like sister airport London City, but those murmerings have come to nothing.

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But make no mistake – Edinburgh has been a huge success story over the last two decades, attracting a large number of new routes and airlines. Passengers now have a choice of three daily carriers to New York, and three to Middle East hubs.

The airport has also been at pains to listen to concerns about planned flight path changes that have aroused opposition.

Even so, with Edinburgh providing the main gateway for foreign visitors and their first experience of Scotland, it must ensure it has upped its game to end the bad publicity and become an airport that is more readily praised – and loved.