Demand up yet again at Highlands and Islands regional airports

Passenger numbers at Scotland’s regional airports increased by almost 2.2% last month – February 2013.

The latest figures released by airport operator, HIAL [Highlands and Islands Airports Limited] show that its 11 airports handled 87,476 passengers in February, an increase of 1869 passengers compared to the same month last year.

In the year to date (April 2012-February 2013), passenger numbers across the group increased by 2.9%.

Growth was strongest at Sumburgh and Wick John O’Groats, both of which have benefited from increased energy sector and refueling activity. Passenger numbers grew 33.3% at Sumburgh – by 4,361; and by 61.5% – by 1,296 at Wick John O’Groats. Kirkwall also enjoyed strong growth, with numbers up by 977, as a result of increased demand on inter-island and mainland services.

Demand was also up at Barra, Benbecula, Islay and Tiree, with the last two, in Argyll, showing respectively 0.9% and 8.8% year on year growth.

However, passenger numbers fell at Dundee [-55.6%], Campbeltown [-20.7%], Inverness [-4.4%] and Stornoway [-6.9%]. These falls in demand are due to schedule changes and fewer aircraft movements.

In the case of Campbeltown, local and tourism bodies have got agreement from the operator FlyBe to schedule weekend flights into the town. It will be interesting to see what impact this development achieves. The worry is that such initiatives can simply be dropped into the schedules with no savvy marketing support, producing minimal response and leading to the wrong conclusion that the destination lacks attraction.

Inglis Lyon, Managing Director of HIAL says: ‘After a strong start in January, growth was more modest in February. Nevertheless the underlying picture is positive with numbers up by almost 3% over the past year, and double digit growth at a number of our airports, including Sumburgh and Wick John O’Groats.

‘As we approach the start of the summer season, we expect that growth will continue and that Inverness, in particular, will recover from what has been a relatively slow winter as airlines increase capacity during the busier summer months.’

February passenger total

  • BARRA 537 (+11.2%)
  • BENBECULA 2,692 (+6.7%)
  • CAMPBELTOWN 553 (-20.7%)
  • DUNDEE 2,003 (-55.6%)
  • INVERNESS 37,882 (-4.4%)
  • ISLAY 1,596 (+0.9%)
  • KIRKWALL 11,793 (+9%)
  • STORNOWAY 8,908 (-6.9%)
  • SUMBURGH 17,457 (+33.3%)
  • TIREE 652 (+8.8%)
  • WICK JOHN O’GROATS 3,403 (+61.5%)
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12 Responses to Demand up yet again at Highlands and Islands regional airports

  1. At last weeks Oban and the Isles planning meeting we received the figures for Oban Airport although the passenger numbers have gone up due to the PSO contract they can’t charge for any extra landings or passenger dues related to that contract.
    The landings from general flights has steadily declined over the last few years and the figures show from an expenditure of £892,000 they turned round income of only £32,000.
    Money from the Oban common good fund has been used to help the airport as well as the money taken in from the car parking charges in the town, but that has now stopped, so it will have to stand on its own. Obviously it is important for the Islands to have the service for various reasons but it will have to be marketed better to increase the turnover of ordinary traffic or all we have is a very expensive local authority taxi service
    Cheers Neil.

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    • Marketing? Now that’s a novel notion? What is it? Does anyone know?
      The reality is that Oban Airport is a local authority hotch potch that few know about and that has no clear, single corporate identity and no independent public-facing presence.
      How do you market that? It runs through your fingers as soon as you try to get to grips with it.
      Did anyone know that in January this year, a company – Chris Jones Gyroplanes – was offering trial flights and conversion courses at Oban Airport?
      We didn’t. Nobody told us. We have a major audience, regularly hitting 6,000 unique visitors per day. We’ve only just found out about this – long after the event.
      If we’d known about this, we’d have been all over it – a major fun, adventure and development initiative. We would have promoted it for nothing.
      Did it happen? Did anyone go? What happened? Was it successful?

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      • I prepared a response paper to a report that went to the Community Planning Group last week on Oban Airport; I believe this is the meeting that Neil has referred to. Cllr. Glen-Lee had copies made of my paper for distribution but then decided it should not be discussed. This was a pity as it put the touted “success of Oban Airport in context.

        When the Argyll Air Services project was voted on by the council it was on the basis of a projected income from the three airports of Oban, Coll and Colonsay of some £530K in Year 2 of operation, in Year 5 the total income for the three airports amounted to £34K yet executive director Mactaggart and his staff claim the project as a success.

        Marketing is not the problem for Oban Airport it is focus. At one time the facility was well known, award winning and busy, it is now notorious and deserted. Under council management Oban has lost over 55% of the visiting aircraft it previously had.

        I can make available the council report and my response to it to anyone who wishes.

        On the Newsroom’s comments with regard to the Chris Jones Gyroplane event planned for January, I must take responsibility for the low key approach as it was me who planned it. The prime purpose was continuation Gyro’ training for myself and a few other diehards. As the weather is so cold for open cockpit flying in January we didn’t want to put any newbie off so we gave it limited coverage. As it turned out due to the strong easterly winds and very cold weather it didn’t happen but we are looking to try again in early summer. I am grateful for Lynda’s offer of promotion and I’ll personally pay for her flight!

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  2. Paul, “At one time the facility was well known, award winning and busy, it is now notorious and deserted. Under council management Oban has lost over 55% of the visiting aircraft it previously had.”

    Interesting. Does the airport losing visiting aircraft have anything to do with the fence that was built parallel and adjacent to the runway (perfectly legally I understand) that encroached on the ‘safe area’ for larger aircraft landing such that the runway is compromised and these aircraft are now they are unable to land at Oban?

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    • Not from a practical perspective as the majority of aircraft that visited previously did not need the extra runway length, but the mass of bad publicity surrounding the fence and the associated shortening of the available runway will have encouraged folk to either fly elsewhere or stay at home.

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  3. Just to confirm Mr Keegan’s response paper was not allowed to be discussed as councillor Glen-Lee thought it would not be appropriate at that time.The director, Mr MacTaggart, stood by the council’s figures so hopefully they will have a meeting where all interested parties will be able to put their ideas forward, to bring the airport back to where it was.
    The money that has been used to bail the airport out, one way, or another would certainly make for interesting reading, so hopefully a true breakdown will be available for everybody when the council decide to discuss this situation openly.
    Surely with the financial state of the airport and the jobs it supports, we need to be talking to anyone who can help.
    Cheers Neil.

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  4. db “Not from a practical perspective as the majority of aircraft that visited previously did not need the extra runway length” – Ahem, it was not the length I was asking about – it was the width – that may/may not have been compromised by the fence.

    Maybe Paul can let us all know?

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    • Apologies for not explaining better; the practical consequence of the fence is that the CAA minimum safety distances were compromised and the runway adjacent to the fence could not be used for licenced airfield operation, so the available runway length was shortened.

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  5. db – well thanks for that explanation about the fence. Much appreciated.

    And, was the consequence of the fence that some aircraft could no longer use the airport?

    And, if so, might the fence (to go back to my original question) account for the reduction in aircraft landing at Oban?

    Now, the real question is – who put the fence up?

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    • Larger aircraft, such as Kingairs etc, would not be able to land safely in the distance available, but it’s complicated by the fact that they don’t need to comply with the runway length restriction unless they are on a licenced air service; a private plane or air taxi could reasonably ignore the artificial shortening if they deemed it safe, but they may risk an earbashing from the tower or being banned from the airfield. This can be avoided by only using the airfield out of hours.

      As for the rest I don’t know; there’s some hearsay here, but I don’t know the truth of it to be honest.

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    • Simon, apologies for the delay in replying.

      db has given an accurate description of the effect of the fence.

      There was not one a/c lost to Oban airport by the fence. There is only the Islander a/c that uses Oban and requires a licensed runway and it only needs 500 metres which is all that it is available to it at the Coll and Colonsay runways.

      The fence was put there as a visual symbol of the deception that the council used when obtaining the Oban airport license. They told the CAA they controlled an area adjacent to the runway when in fact it formed part of the whole area they had leased out to the Argyll Aero Club nearly ten years previously. At no time did the council request the use or the return of the area they required; this was despite subsequent email evidence showing they knew the area was leased to the club and they needed the area to license the runway – before the application to the CAA.

      It is a criminal offence to provide false information on an airport license application.

      The council then tried to do a land grab on the area one morning and at 05:00 removed over 20 trees that had been planted to protect the club’s hangar from westerly winds. This was just to show that they (the council)had control. The club erected the fence thereafter. When the matter inevitably went to court (as that seems to be the only way to redress ABC bullying) the Sheriff said in regard to the club’s lease that it was an absurdity of the English language to construe the council’s interpretation of the lease. The council lost dismally and inevitably had to pay all the legal expenses and compensation to the club to the resolve the matter.

      The fence was removed nearly two years ago and still the number of aircraft using Oban airport continues to fall.

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