This week’s announcement by Ryanair of cuts at Edinburgh airport has been touted by the airline as a major blow to the growing airport and claims that passenger numbers are likely to decline from the present 1.8m to 1.5m passengers annually (out of a total for the airport of 8.6m in 2010). BAA, which still owns and operates Edinburgh replied that they “don’t know where Ryanair gets their figures from.”
In fact, looking closely, Ryanair’s plans consist of operating six, rather than seven planes from the hub. The net effect would be to end the service to Berlin and cancel plans for flights to Malmo, Murcia and Talinn. Sounds serious, until you realise that they will still fly to 35 destinations from Edinburgh, including four in Germany.
In fact, there are over 130 places you can fly to direct from Edinburgh, from Sumburgh to Newquay in the UK , from Alicante to Zurich or Tampere to Tenerife. While passenger figures for Edinburgh have dropped by around 5% from their 2007 peak of 9m, most of that drop has been in holiday flights to the sun as people have budgeted tighter for their holidays and some have opted for ‘staycations’ that don’t involve flying.
The drop has been steeper in aircraft movements down 15% from its peak (129,000 to 109,000). But this implies more efficient loading of aircraft (= full seats), which is obviously more profitable for airlines.
On the other hand, business traffic has been steady, helped by the constant addition of new destinations. Key among factors in Scotland competing in the world is the ease with which our business can access markets elsewhere and with which foreign business and tourists can access Scotland. Edinburgh has been the premier airport in Scotland when it comes to doing that so the variety of links is crucial. This is highlighted in ranking the passengers heading for various destinations.
Favourite recreation destinations like the classic Dublin stag/hen night trip are down appreciably but business destinations like London City or Newark NJ show growth. As evidenced here, flights outside the UK account for around 45% of all passengers. This means we are well linked to the rest of the world but the massive numbers for Heathrow almost certainly hide significant numbers in transit to elsewhere in the world.
Although BAA announced last October that they intended selling Edinburgh Airport, this was due to the Competition Commission requiring them to divest themselves of either Glasgow or Edinburgh. Projections for traffic are healthy, with an estimated 25m passengers expected to pass through Edinburgh in 2030.
So Ryanair’s outburst of temper and withdrawal of flights appears to be, at best, a ploy in negotiations for gate charges at the airport. At worst, it is another outburst from their colourful Chief Executive, who is always up for a little publicity, Michael O’Leary. Ever since he hit the headlines handling baggage at Dublin in 1995 he is rarely out of the news. I think his Ryanair service direct to Blarney is the one that should be cancelled.