09 Mar 2018
In any city’s strategy for economic growth, airports matter. In the same way as a successful port infrastructure supported Glasgow’s growth in the 19th century, so too the effectiveness of our airport now affects our success in supporting export trade, inward investment and tourism.
During the debate over the expansion of Heathrow, research evidence demonstrated the close correlation between a successful inward investment strategy and the evolution of a city’s airport.
And I remember listening to leaders in Turin worrying intensely at the relative health of the city’s Turin-Caselle Airport against the three airports in neighbouring Milan. How would they attract business, investment and jobs to Turin if Malpensa-Milan airport so overshadowed their own offer?
Of course, the same issues come up time and time again when I listen to senior business leaders in Glasgow. How can we make it easier to get to our overseas markets? How do we make it simpler for visitors to get to Glasgow?
Ryanair’s decision to drastically reduce its roster of flights at Glasgow Airport is deeply disappointing. There’s no point denying it’s a blow to the team at Glasgow Airport who have been working very hard to expand the choice of services available. By the end of January the total annual passenger numbers had almost passed the 10 million mark, well ahead of the targets set in their existing growth strategy.
In recent years the team secured Scottish Airport of the Year, UK Airport of the Year, European Airport of the Year and Airport Operators Association (AOA) Airport of the Year. It was also confirmed as one of the fastest growing airports in its category by industry trade body ACI Europe. So there’s no doubt that the team at Glasgow has been doing its job to compete for greater connectivity.
But Ryanair’s decision to remove 20 destinations from Glasgow, leaving just three remaining routes to Dublin, Krakow and Wroclaw, is also a blow to the city itself and needs a considered response.
Glasgow has set itself some very ambitious growth targets through to 2023. Included in those is the attraction of an additional million tourists to reach an annual target of three million visitors each year. Bringing in more visitors is the long-term answer to the airport’s challenge. Ryanair argued that there are not yet enough inbound passengers to Glasgow to sustain the yields they wanted on their routes.
It should be pointed out that Scottish airline Loganair obviously disagreed when it announced it would be replacing Ryanair on the Glasgow to Derry City route from October.
It’s frustrating that Ryanair felt they needed to stand back from Glasgow right now. The Glasgow leadership has signed up to attracting these new visitors, and there are investments in the pipeline that will deliver.
Amongst these are the ongoing refurbishment of the Burrell Collection, the redevelopment of the Kelvin Hall for the Hunterian Collection as the next step in creating a new museums district in the West End, the £150m next phase which will make the Scottish Events Campus one of the best conference venues in the world, and the delivery of major sporting events like the European Championships in August and the UEFA European Football Championships in 2020. Glasgow Airport is also of course a natural gateway to the Ayrshire golf courses, the island whisky distilleries, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.
The Ryanair decision simply forces us to redouble our efforts in achieving the stated tourism goals. Committing to the SEC’s investment plan would be a good start.
But we also must ask some more searching questions about policies which are influencing the attractiveness of the airport for airline route investment. Air Passenger Duty - or Air Departure Tax in Scottish Government terminology – does have an important influence when routes are on the margins of profitability and the Scottish Government’s aim to reduce it by 50% has become stuck due to an issue with Inverness Airport. We hope that can be sorted soon.
We desperately need to see movement on investment to connect the airport to the rail system. As things stand, economic growth in the West of Scotland will only make the congestion across the Kingston Bridge worse especially if you want to get there from east of Glasgow.
Finally the Ryanair decision reminds us that the Scottish Government’s ownership of Prestwick Airport also affects the fortunes of Glasgow Airport. The Scottish Government would do well to meet with Derek Provan, the airport’s new managing director, when he arrives in post in April.
One thing is certainly clear. The airport team is doing its very best to develop new routes, but they need our help to make those new routes profitable for the airlines and so sustainable for the future.
Business investment in the Glasgow city region absolutely depends on it.