North air terminal operator Highlands and Islands Airports (Hial) has set a target of rebuilding passenger numbers to pre-coronavirus crisis levels by 2024-25.
The organisation has also announced plans to make all 11 of its airports carbon neutral by 2040.
The goals were among “key priorities” set out in a new five-year strategy and Covid-19 recovery plan published by publicly-owned Hial yesterday.
Total passenger numbers across Hial’s 10 terminals in the Highlands and Islands as well as Dundee Airport plummeted by 66% in 2020, compared to the year before, and aircraft movements were down by 42% as a result of travel restrictions.
At Inverness Airport, the largest in the network, the number of travellers fell from more than 947,000 in 2019 to just over 246,000 last year.
During the first lockdown, routine flights were cancelled, with Hial focusing on a skeleton schedule that continued to provide essential services to remote island communities, including emergency NHS passenger transfers, Royal Mail deliveries and support for the offshore industry.
Hial managing director Inglis Lyon said: “The pandemic will continue to have a significant impact on everyone’s lives and considerable impact on our business. However, it has also underlined the significant – even critical – role that Hial’s airports continue to play in maintaining connectivity for our communities.
“Our staff demonstrated impressive resilience and a genuine commitment to their communities, despite extremely challenging circumstances, and also deserve our thanks.
“The customer experience has been seriously impacted by pandemic mitigation measures and air services have also been dramatically reduced. Recovery will take time and we aim to rebuild passenger numbers to 2019 levels by 2024-25.
“By protecting air access to communities, we play our part in ensuring these often more remote communities remain sustainable.
“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government, partner agencies and our airline partners to retain key routes and to bring in new services where existing ones are cancelled.”
Hial said that Covid-19 had created “severe and unexpected disruption” for forward planning, but its overall strategic priority remained the decarbonisation of operations and “delivering an environmentally sustainable future for aviation services in the Highlands and Islands”.
Chairwoman Lorna Jack added: “We recognise we must explore safe, but also different, operating models to decarbonise our operations and enable greener air services.
“With new advances in technology, cleaner air travel will become more viable – and our aim is for Hial to be at the forefront of Scotland’s efforts to transition to a low-carbon future.
“Many of the opportunities identified in this plan will not be realised without new initiatives and support from our partners.
“We will work closely with the Scottish Government and others to achieve our long-term vision of becoming a net-zero carbon regional airport group.”
Hial recently announced it was leading a consortium in a £3.7 million project to create the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test centre at Kirkwall Airport, Orkney.