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Hial counts the cost of travel restrictions during 2020-21

Hial managing director Inglis Lyon takes "great pride" in the airport operator's Covid response.
Hial managing director Inglis Lyon takes "great pride" in the airport operator's Covid response.

The operator of Inverness Airport has revealed the scale of lost business during the year to March after suffering a 77% plunge in passenger numbers.

Revenue from all 11 terminals run by Highlands and Islands Airports (Hial) plummeted to just under £9 million, from £24.9m in the previous 12 months, as Covid-19 travel restrictions hit the global aviation industry hard.

A total of 393,000 passengers used Hial’s airports in the latest period, down from 1.6 million in 2019-20.

But pre-tax losses narrowed to £2.6m, from £2.7m previously.

The period since March 2020 has been like no other in our history in terms of impact on our teams and partner airlines.”

Inglis Lyon, managing director, Hial.

The figures are in Hial’s latest annual report, in which the Scottish Government-owned company says the pandemic has “significantly impacted” every aspect of its operations.

But chairwoman Lorna Jack insists the airport operator is “on the road to recovery.”

Hial received a public subsidy of £56.8m, including revenue funding of £36.6m, during 2020-21.

It also benefitted from capital funding of £20.2m, supplemented by £3.5m of loan funding for commercial activities.

Inverness Airport.

The reduction in passenger numbers was keenly felt across all 11 airports.

Sumburgh, in Shetland, which serves the oil and gas sector, was least affected but still saw a 47% reduction in passengers.

Numbers at Sumburgh were down year-on-year to just under 163,000, from nearly 308,000 in 2019-20.

Inverness Airport, the largest in the group, saw passenger numbers fall 88% to just under 110,000, from almost 917,000 previously.

Sumburgh Airport.

Hial also owns and operates the airports in Campbeltown, Dundee, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Wick, as well as those on the islands of Barra, Benbecula, Islay and Tiree.

The firm says Covid-19 mitigation measures introduced across all of its airports and office buildings took priority during 2020-21.

But it also highlights investment of £23.8m in capital projects across the business.

This includes a £2.6m investment in drainage works at Inverness in a project Hial says will allow it to fulfil its commitment to continuously improve its environmental credentials.

Belfast-bound flight leaving Dundee Airport.

Following publication of the annual report, Hial managing director Inglis Lyon said: “The period since March 2020 has been like no other in our history in terms of impact on our teams and partner airlines.

“Pre-pandemic, our airports offered a uniquely professional, but personal experience for all customers – local residents, local businesses, visitors and others.

“I take great pride in the fact that first-rate service continued throughout the pandemic, thanks to colleagues right across the business.”

Hial chairwoman Lorna Jack: “The process of recovery also presents us with an opportunity to reset our services.”

Hial’s initial and ongoing response to the crisis “ensured we were prepared for the restart” as restrictions were eased, Mr Lyon said, adding: “It also provides a foundation for our future success.”

Ms said: “We are on the road to recovery but that will take time.

“That said, the process of recovery also presents us with an opportunity to reset our services, to recognise the needs of airlines and passengers post-coronavirus and to rethink and rebuild our services and operations to accommodate these needs.”

Hial published its Strategy and Covid-19 Recovery Plan for 2021-2026 in February this year, setting out how it aims to respond and recover from the pandemic in the coming years.

Options put forward in the blueprint include building a new terminal at Inverness.

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