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Aberdeen Airport trade ‘decimated’ thanks to lockdown, but bosses optimistic for future

Aberdeen International Airport .
Aberdeen International Airport .

On a “normal” Saturday, anywhere between 7,000 and 8,000 people would pass through Aberdeen International Airport’s (AIA) bustling main terminal.

Last Saturday, in a world locked down by coronavirus, that number stood at just 90.

The future of the world’s aviation industry has been plunged into uncertainty due to the current pandemic but AIA is still open for, albeit smaller, business as usual.

Patients from Shetland and Orkney are still flown to hospital via AIA, cargo and mail planes still touch down, Helimed 79 is based on site and – crucially – the airport is a crutch for the offshore industry.

The coronavirus testing centre at Aberdeen Airport, for offshore staff. Picture by Paul Glendell.

“We have the very dubious honour of being the busiest airport in the UK right now,” explains Steve Szalay, managing director of the airport.

He said: “But that hides the sad issue that we been absolutely decimated – we’ve lost 95% of our flights and our passengers.

“This is a huge challenge for the network of companies involved in aviation. I’m fairly sure not everyone will survive – we’re still reeling from the loss of Flybe.

“Other airlines will sadly go, and maybe some airports.”

To cope with the current situation, AIA bosses had initially considered dropping down to a three-or-four day week, rather than the current seven.

Aberdeen International Airport managing director Steve Szalay.

They have now reduced hours of operation, and also taken advantage of the Scottish Government’s furlough scheme, reducing staff numbers by around 40-50%, Mr Szalay explained.

However, the managing director thinks AIA could be one of the strongest in the country when it comes to recovery – thanks, in most part, to its oil and gas links.

He said: “The difference between Aberdeen and other areas is that we are predominantly a business airport rather than a leisure holiday destination.

“In normal times I see that as a bad thing – I want more holiday destinations – but in terms of recovery, this could make a huge difference when airlines are wondering where to put their aircraft.

“There is business demand in Aberdeen.”

Helimed 79 is based at Aberdeen Airport

He added: “We’re currently a lifeline for the likes of Orkney and Shetland and the NHS flights coming in.

“We’ve got the cargo flights coming in, we’ve got the mail flights coming in, and we have the oil and gas workers who need to get to work to keep the lights on for all of us.

“Many airlines are looking to restart in June.

“But we’ve already got nine routes operating – including to the likes of Amsterdam and Bergen through KLM.

“It won’t be a big restart for us, more like a turning on of the tap.”

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