SCOTLAND’S 11 regional airports operated by HIAL have recorded a rise in passenger numbers – up almost 40,000 to 1.3million.
The company’s annual report and accounts for 2012/13 show a 3.1 per cent increase in passenger numbers, by 39,224 to 1,297,676.
This increase is despite the number of aircraft movements dropping by 0.1 per cent to 127,641.
It is the highest throughput for its airports in four years.
Inverness was the busiest airport in passenger terms, with 611,382 passengers.
Grenville Johnston, Chairman of HIAL, said: “The aviation industry has emerged from one of the most challenging downturns in its history.
“At HIAL, we have been working hard, with our airline partners, to provide a diverse network of routes, some of them lifeline, others more geared towards the business and tourism sector. Collectively, these routes play an important role in driving Scotland’s regional economy.
“Our airports are amongst the most peripheral in the UK, serving parts of Scotland where air is the only practical form of long distance travel. So, it is vital that we redouble our efforts to ensure these communities remain connected.”
He pointed to the success of the Inverness to Amsterdam service, now in its third year, and the introduction of new flights from the Highland capital to Geneva, as well as new Sunday flights from Glasgow to Campbeltown.
However, he said the withdrawal of key services at Dundee and in the Western Isles, and the threat to links between the regions and London, presented ongoing challenges.
Inglis Lyon, Managing Director of HIAL, said: “With a network of 11 airports across Scotland, many in remote or coastal locations, HIAL faces very distinct cost challenges. However, our ongoing focus on reducing costs, and on securing new streams of income, has seen improvements in the group’s operating performance. As with the previous year, a milder winter also helped reduce winter weather related operating costs.
“Investing for future growth remains a key priority, particularly as passenger numbers continue to grow.”
Mr Lyon said that HIAL was determined to “provide a route network that supports social mobility and fosters economic growth” across regional Scotland.
“The success of flybe’s Inverness to Amsterdam service illustrates the enormous benefits that air travel brings to the regional economy, both in terms of connecting businesses and supporting inbound tourism,” he said.
Mr Lyon said that HIAL was determined to be innovative in its efforts to reduce costs. “As a publicly owned airport group, HIAL works hard to ensure that every penny of its limited budget is spent effectively,” he said.
He pointed to a new in-house training programme for fire service recruits, the first of its kind in the UK, which has resulted in significant savings for the business and delivered a more rounded training regime for fire fighters, and its work to reduce its carbon footprint by sourcing all of its electricity from renewable sources.
“There are further innovative plans in the pipeline at Inverness,” he said.
The HIAL group, which is wholly owned by Scottish Ministers and receives a public subsidy, reduced its operating loss from £969,00 in 2011/12 to £896,000.
A milder winter and ongoing efforts to improve efficiencies and reduce costs resulted in the improved financial performance.
During the period, HIAL invested more than £8.4 million on capital projects across its airports, including:
• £1 million to strengthen the south apron at Inverness, allowing larger aircraft to park closer to the terminal building.
• £1.1 million at Campbeltown to refurbish the runway and create a new airport operations hub.
• £1.1 million for runway repairs and the refurbishment of a hangar at Sumburgh airport.
• the first phase of a £7 million group-wide investment in 20 state of the art fire tenders.
HIAL operates a network of 11 airports across Scotland: Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Dundee, Inverness, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick John O’Groats.
The HIAL group connects regional Scotland to a network of more than 30 UK and international destinations, including Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, London, Jersey, Amsterdam, Bergen, Geneva and Zurich. Popular holiday destinations in Portugal, France and Italy are also served from Inverness.
The company employs more than 500 people across its 11 airports, and at its group headquarters in Inverness.