Edinburgh Airport: Reimagining the Future of Scotland’s Hub

In a recent uni assignment, I was tasked with exploring a UK airport, its strategy, and its opportunities for growth and improvement. Instantly my sights were set on Edinburgh, a large and successful airport in a growing city which boasts major tourism demand. EDI is Scotland’s busiest airport and the sixth busiest in the UK, having handled 14.75 million passengers in 2019. Covid-19 has unsurprisingly led Scottish aviation into an unprecedented slump – with just 3.5 million passengers handled in 2020, a 76% reduction. Despite this, Edinburgh has the second highest average gross disposable income per capita in the UK, and its population is expected to grow 10% by 2025 – the airport clearly has great potential to bounce back post-Covid. Much like Heathrow to London, EDI will undoubtedly be vital to the regrowth of the local economy.

A Technological, Accessible Airport

Edinburgh is home to a well-rounded mix of facilities for leisure and business passengers alike. In its sole passenger terminal, the airport takes advantage of self-service technologies, which includes what was the UK’s first multi-airline self-service bag drop facility.

The airport also recently redeveloped their check-in hall, implementing a state-of-the-art 85 metre LED display which spans the length of the departure hall, accompanied by a baggage belt for customers to self-drop their bags after check-in. This high utilisation of technology is aimed at making the journey easier for passengers, as well as giving airlines a common-use system, thus avoiding the need for carriers to develop their own costly software systems.

Image: Thomas Nugent. Licensed under: CC BY-SA 2.0.

Whilst being a technologically advanced airport, EDI has also made commendable efforts towards accessibility and inclusion for passengers with reduced mobility (PRMs) – being awarded the International Airport Review award for ‘Best Accessibility Initiative’ in 2019, after using app software to allow PRMs to order food and drinks with ease from outlets within the terminal, and have them delivered by staff.

“We are always looking at how we can improve and how technology can help us do that – this award is recognition of that innovative approach and one that is industry leading, something all of the team at Edinburgh Airport can take pride in.”

– Gordon Dewar, Edinburgh Airport CEO

Edinburgh’s terminal has capacity to serve circa 15 million passengers per year – and with the airport optimistic for a return to 2019 passenger levels sooner rather than later, there is an immediate need for capacity to be increased – especially in the departure lounge, the immigration hall, and baggage reclaim. The closure of a former second runway freed up a great deal of land for terminal expansion, and the airport plan to extend the main terminal to create a new East pier in due course.

The remaining runway, 06/24, is capable of handling most aircraft – although code F aircraft (typically A380s or 747s) cannot be handled at maximum take-off weight due to limited runway length. The strategy of EDI is based around getting maximum usage of their runway and delaying any second runway until after 2040.

A Tough Outlook in a Post-Covid World

Image: Thomas Nugent. Licensed under: CC BY-SA 2.0.

In the immediate wake of the pandemic hitting, Edinburgh announced their ‘FlySafe’ initiative, with a view to make passengers feel comfortable with enjoying the facilities on offer at the airport in a safe way.

With the Scottish government rolling out their cautious traffic-light system for international flights, initiatives such as FlySafe will be vital to ensure the limited demand that does exist can be capitalised on.

Pre-Covid, EDI saw impressive growth in both aeronautical and non-aeronautical revenues. Their Covid-19 initiatives will need to bring on board retailers to ensure customers feel safe to both shop and fly at the airport once more if they are to steadily increase both revenue streams once more. Overall, it is a tough Outlook for the airport and for UK aviation as a whole. A strong summer is essential, but looking an unlikely possibility at present.

Brainstorming the Future of EDI

Scotland’s hub airport undoubtedly has a promising future ahead of it in the long term, and it was an enjoyable experience to research an airport I now so desperately want to visit. I concluded my assignment with a set of recommendations for the airport’s long-term plan, whilst they may be quite wacky and ambitious – there may be a place for them at EDI some day!

A new premium passenger terminal

Instead of extending the current terminal, one possible move for EDI could be to build a brand-new one on the Turnhouse Apron dedicated solely to premium and Full-Service Network Carriers such as British Airways and Emirates. This would give these airlines more scope for branding to be utilised within the check-in areas, something currently made difficult by the sheer use of common-user and multi-airline technology. This new terminal would allow EDI the freedom to turn the current terminal into a fully-Low-Cost optimised space, with extensive use of common-user tech and self-service systems.

The Turnhouse Apron is currently home largely to aircraft parking and some general aviation. Due to the closure of the former runway, it would now likely make for a viable space for a new terminal to be built. Another benefit of this location within the airfield is that it sits close to the airport’s cargo terminal, which happens to be Royal Mail’s Scottish hub. Given the large amounts of belly-hold cargo transported by FSNCs, this makes it an attractive possible project.

A runway extension

As mentioned, the masterplan of Edinburgh revolves around the need to make maximum use out of the airport’s sole runway. 06/24 isn’t quite capable of handling the largest aircraft at maximum operating weight due to its limited length. One way Edinburgh could maximise the potential of their current runway is to extend it. In my recommendations, I suggested replicating the runway at London Gatwick – this would involve an additional 760 metres to the East of the runway, and would require a train line to be rerouted. Whilst this would be an expensive investment, it could work well with a premium terminal to attract FSNCs to/from further afield international destinations, and also allow for more cargo opportunities to be realised.

A leisure focused lounge in the LCC terminal

All three of these recommendations are designed to work together to improve Edinburgh’s ability to market to both leisure and business-oriented passengers. If the main terminal were to become LCC-focused, this could give EDI the opportunity to be innovative with a new style of airport lounge.

A key concern of many travellers in the current climate is a lack of space. Offering a simple, low-frills airport lounge could be a way of both creating ancillary revenue for the airport as well as keeping customers assured of safe Covid measures. This lounge wouldn’t have the aim of offering high-comfort and luxury, but instead have a sole purpose to allow passengers guaranteed seating, more space to distance from other passengers, and possibly a complimentary snack and/or drink (if EDI are feeling generous!).

I’d love to know your thoughts on my recommendations and the future of Edinburgh airport. I do wish them the best, and hope to check out their high-tech terminal as soon as I can!

I hope you enjoyed this article! Do be sure to get in touch with me or the team, we’d love to hear from you – and chat all things aviation!

I'm an avid writer and airport fanatic. I'm currently studying Airline and Airport Management at Bucks New University and hope to work in airport operations in the future.

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