Few industries have been hit as hard and as quickly by the coronavirus crisis as the aviation industry as the sudden and dramatic reduction in the number of travellers by plane hit home and any recovery potentially taking years.
For Scotland’s busiest airport, the challenges of rebuilding passenger confidence and surviving the financial onslaught that is losing £3.5 million per month are significant.
Even now, after the worst of the Covid-19 crisis has passed, just 300 people on an average of six flights per day pass through the terminal, down on the normal June average of 50,000.
It means the estimate of 15 million passengers that were expected to use the Airport in 2020 was radically reduced to between three and five million, a number that could still drop further.
However, through a combination of resilience and creativity, Edinburgh Airport is confident it will navigate its way through the current crisis and succeed in the aviation’s ‘new normal’, whatever that may look like in the long term.
“We have managed to secure liquidity from our banks”, an airport spokesman told the Evening News. “We are confident that we can ride out this storm and we will still be viable at the end of it.
“We are beginning to see the small shoots of growth but we will have to go through a really tough period of cost cutting. Our viability relies on liquidity and managing our cost base as well and we are going to have to cut the number of jobs which we are discussing with unions.
“One of the things we have been focused on is what has happened in other parts of the world and what happened in the previous crash and previous pandemics such as Sars and what the recovery looked like.”
The airport is also confident that there is no question Edinburgh will remain an attractive destination for the tourist and business industry.
The spokesman added: “The reason Edinburgh has a successful airport is partly due to the management team but also because it is a place people want to visit and work in.
“Will Edinburgh still be a strong business hub for northern Europe and a world class tourist destination? Yes.”
The airport expects an upturn in domestic travel once the tourism industry reopens on July 15, but the business has significant concerns over the implementation of the 14-day quarantine put in place by the UK Government.
“We have always been lead by the health professionals on this but our view was this was the wrong time for it and that this won’t achieve what they want while putting a real anchor on the recovery of the country,” the spokesman said.
“We would like to see a more focused and risk based approach and we don’t understand why we are not letting people from Scandanavia but we could understand not letting people in from Brazil or the USA.
“We think potentially air bridges or a more targeted approach would achieve the aims they have while allowing some economic growth.”
In the shorter term, the airport unveiled its new social distancing measures installed throughout its terminal to improve safety and help create a level of passenger confidence which could see some tourists and business travellers return sooner rather than later.
Safety measures including voluntary temperature checks before security, a one-way system which directs travellers around the airport using blue and red lines and protective screens at check-in desks have been installed.
Staff have also been trained in the best ways to avoid transmission and will be expected to wear face coverings and personal protective equipment while at work.
Other measures include disinfecting trolleys and wheelchairs using a no-touch ‘fogging machine’, as well as deep cleaning of security trays and enhanced cleaning schedules around the airport.
Signage across the airport relating to the measures has been deliberately coloured to aid the colourblind identify the routes, while vending machines selling face masks and hand sanitiser have been installed with any profit being donated to charity.
Peter Barnes, optimisation manager and the man behind much of the work around the social distancing measures, said the scale of the challenge had meant long hours across nine weeks of non-stop effort.
He said: “You are trying to take the historical legacy of this airport and make it work for the modern aviation age and the Covid-19 world.
“Hopefully we are setting a standard and hopefully we are giving people confidence.”
All the measures are part of the airport’s ‘flysafe’ campaign, which also asks passengers to not risk flying if feeling ill and to wear a face mask.
Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport said: “We know how important it is to provide passengers with reassurance and confidence as they look to return to travel and we’ve spent a lot of time looking at how we do that by making improvements to our operation.
“The steps we have taken will allow people to get moving safely and reopen our economy by providing that connectivity that our airlines are rebuilding. We all have a part to play in this recovery and we must make sure we do that by encouraging people to flysafe.”