LONDON – Edinburgh Airport (EDI) CEO Gordon Dewar spoke to Airways about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including some of the issues that have surrounded the airport during this volatile time.
In this interview, we discuss the moments before national lockdown, actions of the UK Government and more.
Seven Questions with Dewar
JF: Gordon, thank you for speaking to Airways. First question, what was it like for the airport the minute lockdowns and closures started occurring?
GD: Surreal is probably the best word to describe it. It is our business to move people around the world so to see that effectively shut down was incredible and disheartening.
We are used to seeing around 45,000 people travel through the airport every day and there were days where literally no passengers were in the airport, it was like the ash-cloud on steroids with no end in sight.
JF: How quickly did the airport have to act in this? And how did it make you feel?
GD: Immediately. We are lucky that reacting quickly to things is part of the makeup of our business and we have teams who are always working to plan for any eventuality, so we started looking at our operations and response in early February when Covid-19 started to enter Europe.
You always hope you are planning for something that you will never have to react to but obviously we were right to identify the potential impact of Covid-19 on the business and prepare for it when we did, and we had plans ready to invoke when we needed them.
These plans concentrated on keeping people safe and protecting the long-term viability of the airport with as many jobs as possible.
JF: Obviously, with the devolved governments taking different areas of action, have the Scottish Government done enough when dealing with this crisis? If so, why? Do you think that the UK Government should do more at this present time?
GD: Every government around the world has had difficult decisions to make because this was such an unprecedented situation, and those taken by the UK and Scottish Governments are no different.
I have great respect for the choices that both governments have had to make in extremely testing circumstances and I know that I wouldn’t have liked to have been in their position.
But we are now in a place where they have made different choices and diverged from each other which is creating issues for us as an airport.
The Scottish Government has taken a more cautious approach and I completely understand the reasons for that – protecting public health has always been First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s top priority and rightfully so.
It was and remains crucial. But we are now in a situation where we know we will be living with this virus for months if not years to come but rather than adapt, we are still enforcing a quarantine policy which is a travel ban in all but name.
That policy is in place across the UK but is obviously managed by the devolved governments and that means there are different rules and regulations in different areas of the UK, making it incredibly confusing for passengers, airports, airlines and everyone else who relies on aviation.
The UK still doesn’t have a testing strategy for airports, which is causing further damage to the industry, the many others that rely on it, and the economy as a whole.
We have to find an approach that finds a balance between protecting public health and allow the economy to recover. Aviation is a huge part of that recovery, not just in Scotland but across the world, so we need to get an approach that does both.
We don’t expect the government to do everything but we do hope that they will allow the aviation sector to play an active part in finding answers much as we did when faced with new security threats after 9-11.
It will be international collaboration and shared effort that will find solutions to this global problem.
JF: Obviously COVID has disrupted things in the present, but more importantly in the future. With recovery not expected until 2024, how has this affected route development out of the airport?
GD: In one way it hasn’t because we are always looking to develop and deliver more routes, that’s just how we approach things.
Clearly we’ll have to react accordingly but it’s difficult when the future is still so unclear, and that’s a situation facing all airports.
But we know we have a track record of growth and have fostered strong relationships with airline partners over the years so we’ll continue to speak with them and sell Edinburgh and Scotland as best we can.
While I don’t know how fast the overall market will recover, if our government approach in Scotland and UK gives us the opportunity then Edinburgh will outperform most airports across Europe going forward just as we have since 2012.
JF: With such disruption taking place, the vision for Edinburgh Airport will no doubt be different. How does the next ten years look now compared to pre-COVID demand levels?
GD: Of course, it’s not what we had planned but it’s useful to provide some context.
At Edinburgh Airport, we typically added around 1 million passengers each year between 2012 and 2019, and that saw us handling 14.7 million passengers last year.
That really is incredible growth and something we are proud of, but we’ll be lucky to welcome around a third of that in 2020.
The analogy I’ve been using is that this will be like a time machine when it comes to passenger numbers.
We’re probably going back to levels not seen for around 30 years, but it will rebound much quicker. It’s how quick that is the question at the moment, and no-one quite knows what that recovery will look like.
JF: Is there anything you would like to say about Edinburgh Airport, including any measures taken out by the airport?
GD: The most important thing we can say is Edinburgh and Scotland is open.
We are here and are looking forward to welcoming people back when they feel confident enough to travel. And we want to be at the top of those Must Visit bucket lists.
So to help reassure people looking to come here, we’ve introduced a number of measures at the airport such as protective screens in check-in, security, and arrivals, encouraging the use of face coverings and enhanced cleaning schedules.
But we’ve gone over and above that too. The biggest change we’ve made is the introduction of one-way color-coded systems in and out of the airport.
Passengers arriving at all points of the airport will have to follow a sky-blue line to take them into the check-in hall and on this route, they’ll have to sanitize their hands before they enter the building so we’re taking additional precautions.
Exiting/arriving passengers will follow a maroon line out of the terminal and will be separated from those looking to head out of Edinburgh.
It reduces cross over and potential contamination of passengers and keeps an orderly flow to things – and it might even be something we keep in place going forward.
If we can add to that by being at the forefront of the development of an aviation testing approach I would hope that we can open up the borders and persuade people that coming to Edinburgh and Scotland will be amongst the safest places to travel to.
JF: Gordon, thank you for speaking to us.
It remains clear that after speaking to Mr. Dewar, Edinburgh Airport, like with any other airport globally, has felt the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. With that in mind, EDI has done a considerable amount of work to ensure that the Scottish airport can get back into business as quickly as possible.
The words mentioned about the UK Government in particular is echoing a lot of what those in the aviation sector are thinking. Without a clear-cut strategy for the sector, it puts more risk on the industry every-day.
Featured Image: Gordon Dewar, CEO of Edinburgh Airport. Photo Credit: The Times