DCSIMG

Interview: Kevin Brown, managing director, Edinburgh airport

THE turbulence began even before Kevin Brown landed his job as managing director of Edinburgh airport. In the six months since the former head of Aberdeen airport took up the post, he has not had a smooth ride, with extreme snow falls, an unpopular "kiss and fly tax" and the threat of Edinburgh being sold to new owners all taxiing towards him.

THE turbulence began even before Kevin Brown landed his job as managing director of Edinburgh airport. In the six months since the former head of Aberdeen airport took up the post, he has not had a smooth ride, with extreme snow falls, an unpopular "kiss and fly tax" and the threat of Edinburgh being sold to new owners all taxiing towards him.

His predecessor, Gordon Dewar, had announced the airport would start charging a 1 drop-off tax, causing outrage among passengers and MSPs. Having announced the unwelcome news, Dewar departed less than a month later to take on a new job in Bahrain.

Brown faced grillings over the tax just days after he moved in to his new office, but was it deliberately arranged so that Dewar would take the brunt of the fallout from the levy before he left?

Brown says no: "I can't say I was the most popular person coming in dealing with the drop-off charge but, having looked at it, it was the right thing to do. But it wasn't stage-managed in that way. I came in and took a fresh look at it and my perspective was to get on and deal with it."

He insists that, in the weeks since the levy came in, no-one is shouting about it to him as he does his daily rounds.

"It has been well implemented. The people I am speaking to as I walk round the airport say it is easier to get in and out of the airport. It has improved congestion."

• Background: Kevin Brown

But then the snow came. The extreme conditions shut the airport for a total of eight days, more than any other terminal in Scotland. Weather conditions hadn't been so bad for nearly 40 years, with Edinburgh getting it much worse than either Glasgow or Aberdeen.

Brown says he is proud of his crews who worked 24/7, staying in local hotels for over a week in order to shift more than 250,000 tons of snow.

But still the delays caused an outcry. As part of a "special resilience committee" convened to examine the impact of severe weather on the city, Brown is again set for another grilling from local councillors. But he stands firm on his record.

"It was the second-coldest December for 100 years and snowfall accumulations for Edinburgh were the highest in Scotland in terms of the airports impacted," says Brown.

"Some people make a call - why was Edinburgh closed when the others were open? It is quite simple, the others didn't have any snow. That seemed to escape some people's minds."

He says the airport has sufficient equipment and resources to deal with "normal" winters. But now he is involved in deciding whether more snow is set to be the new normal for Scotland.

"This weather we have had has not been seen since 1973.

So if you go and buy a lot of equipment and double up all your resources, the equipment will be duff by the time you need it in another 30 years.

"I do hope this weather is a one-off. I hope I never have to deal with it again but, if it is to become more frequent, then I want to be in a better place to deal with that and out investment plans will have to be realigned accordingly."

Brown - who is travelling to Oslo and Helsinki airports to investigate their approach to snow - is also investigating whether regulation can be adjusted to give the airport more flexibility in staying open when conditions are bad.

Last year's volcanic ash cloud caused airlines to cry out at too strict regulation, which grounded flights that were unlikely to be harmed or affected by emissions from erupting volcanos. Brown sees potential in taking this approach to safety regulation around to snow and ice.

"There are different regulations in different countries in terms of when you can and cannot operate," he says.

"Part of my discussion with regulators will be to understand what those regulations are in other areas. And is there anything we can do - without cutting corners in safety - to enhance ability to operate in more severe conditions?"

As if Brown wasn't facing enough pressure, his airport may or may not be up for sale. In October, BAA's Spanish owner, Ferrovial, lost its appeal against a ruling from the Competition Commission that is must sell Standsted as well as one of its Scottish airports. BAA doesn't want to sell but if it has to, then selling the airport that will get the highest price makes sense, making Edinburgh the most likely to be on the block.

Brown is careful to say he's neither for nor against it: "To me who owns the airport is not really the main factor."

But he is aware he's got the jewel in the Scottish crown. "The more successful a business the better price it will attract," he says. Unlike Glasgow, Edinburgh airport grew its passenger numbers last year despite the ash and snow. But the new five-year masterplan issued last week has vastly reduced expected passengers to be travelling through Edinburgh by 2020 and any thoughts of building a second runway in the next three decades has been ruled out.

Brown says the new plans are more "realistic" but boasts that its 25 routes added last year and 4-5 per cent underlying growth means "there aren't that many airports in the UK, or Europe for that matter, demonstrating that level of confidence".

Brown hints he would like to stay with Edinburgh airport - regardless of who owns it.

"I love the airport," he says. "My view is I will always work in airports wherever it might be, but I have a great team in there, we have delivered a lot of success.

"We plan to continue doing that and I want to be part of that team."

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page

 

UNMISSABLE SHOWS.
UNMISSABLE COVERAGE.
MAKE THE MOST OF THE FESTIVAL
(BEFORE YOU MISS IT)

#WOWFEST

In partnership with

Complete coverage of the festivals. Guides. Reviews. Listings. Offers

Lets Go!

No Thanks