EDINBURGH AIRPORT'S NEW MD IS SINGING FROM BAA's OLD SONG SHEET!
From The Edinburgh Evening News, July 5, 2001:-
" IF Richard Jeffreys career path stays on its current route, he could be sunning himself on a tropical beach in the Indian Ocean before long. The man charged with handling ever-increasing passenger numbers at Edinburgh Airport took over the captains chair at the start of last month from Lesley Bale who, like him, ran Aberdeen Airport before arriving in the Capital. Shes now managing Mauritius Airport, one of the investments that BAA - the former government-owned British Airport Authority - has around the world.
But if Mr Jeffrey is even slightly envious of his predecessors new role, his obvious enthusiasm for his colder and rainier job now in hand, covers it well. The 35-year old says the "informal, relaxed and open" management style hes brought from the Granite City fits perfectly with what he needs to achieve here.
However, hes streetwise enough to know airports are fickle products, and a drop in service standard can plummet passenger numbers. On paper, Edinburgh is flying high. Figures revealed a 12 per cent rise in passenger numbers to 522,700 in May, the second best performing in Britain behind Stansted, despite an overall ten per cent dip in passengers travelling to British airports.
Admittedly, much of the growth has largely been put down to lack of confidence in the railways, but it remains the fourth largest regional airport in Britain. A total of 5.5 million passengers went through it last year compared with 2.4 million in 1990. "Fundamentally, the product doesnt need changed, but customers only experience an airport for about three minutes while they check-in. One bad experience will taint their impression. There is a constant pressure on getting it right every time," he says.
With Majorcas coach drivers strike in mind, he adds: "A lot of conditions are outside of our control, but they are outside the passengers as well, and its our job to make that as seamless as possible." Mr Jeffrey has passed swiftly through the ranks of BAA, where he has been since he left Imperial College in London in 1987. His main experience has been trying to buy shares in airports around the world as part of BAAs international division. His greatest hour was landing a £23 million deal to buy the management company behind Naples airport, when it left government hands for the private sector. As someone leaving education in the midst of Thatcherite Britain, and now working for one of the better examples of privatisation, Mr Jeffrey is convinced BAA plc runs Edinburgh Airport better than the Scottish Executive ever could.
"I am not going to sit here and say that privatisation is always right. But our particular experience has been nothing but positive. "We have invested something like £400m in our three airports in Scotland. We have just completed a £100m development here. All of that is without a penny of taxpayers money," he says.
"We are a major contributor to the local economy - around £260m a year - not just in terms of economic generation but also what we part with in hard cash. "The track record and the pressure on public sector spending from all angles is such that you would have to fight for your money with other equally worthy causes - whether thats hospitals, schools, or the prison service. "Being out of that bear pit makes longer-term planning much easier. We are also not subject to the whims and ups and downs of the political cycle. Its great for the taxpayer because it doesnt cost them a penny and, in terms of the passenger, it allows us to bring facilities on line that we need."
Like any business, Edinburgh Airport and the national network is now run on basic, strict commercial terms - BAA spends "what it can afford to invest, on what the business needs, and what the customers are prepared to pay for it", he says. Using the airport doesnt cost a passenger anything - its the airlines who are charged £6 per passenger and differing charges per tonne for the aircraft they use to get here. Airport shops pay BAA rent and theres advertising revenue and car parking charges, which combined brought Edinburgh Airport around £50m last year.
The recent £100m worth of work is designed to provide capacity enough for eight million passengers a year, but just as the scaffolding and tarpaulin has gone, Mr Jeffrey promises work is due to start again at the end of the year, as demand looks like outstripping the facility. He has already updated its previous ten-year plan. "The current12 per cent growth rate is unsustainable and I expect that to slow down to four-five per cent per year. The facilities should take us to 2005," he adds.
He plans to spend £10-20m a year for the next ten years "dependent on the revenues". Trends in airport use are set to change in years to come with more smaller aircraft due to make more flights, and larger jets are likely to gradually disappear, certainly from the skies over Edinburgh. As well as a new control tower, expect one, if not two, large hotels to be built nearby, and multi-storey car parks and other airport and cargo handling facilities to be built around the current main buildings.
New development work will also involve extending the aircraft taxi-way, as it currently doesnt run the full length of the runway, restricting capacity. The issue is not the size of the runway and size of aircraft landing, its all about movements per hour," says Mr Jeffrey.
"The real growth in the services we are getting is in the 50-120 seaters, the ones that ultimately will make airlines more money." Mr Jeffrey now expects to win "a couple more European and domestic services, and some increases on domestic services" while he concedes talks are ongoing with two semi-serious US carriers. "The focus in terms of route development will be around increased frequency to major European hubs to give the passenger genuine choice. That provides much more than a single service to New York. "You can pretty much get to anywhere in the world from Edinburgh using one stop. That would not be improved with a trans-Atlantic. "Edinburgh is pretty well-served - it doesnt have every destination that every passenger wants but I am not sure than any regional airport does. But we have to face some of the economic realities that airlines only fly routes that can make money. What we do not want to do is take on a service, then lose it."
In recent months, there has been great debate on a rail link between the city centre and the airport. The airport is seen essentially as a utility for the local community, but whereas Mr Jeffrey likes the idea of a rail link, he clearly doesnt think the economics will ever see it happen. "Providing for the motorist is not a fashionable concept anymore - there has to be a conscious effort to encourage other forms of transport. The rail link is a difficult issue.Our position is that we think its a tremendous idea - but we also believe there are some serious questions over the economic viability of it. It is around who is going to use it, how often, how much are they prepared to pay for it."We are part-funding a feasibility study with the Scottish Executive. But a lot of the people coming to the airport dont come from the city centre. A rail link for people in West Lothian is a fat load of use."
NICK BEVENS Business Editor
Thursday, 5th July 2001
Note the gaffe about passengers not paying BAA's airport charges! Large jets not flying in Edinburgh's skies but they will fly in Glasgow's?
One stop long-haul from EDI, but you have to go to Glasgow for direct services?
Ridicules rail links to West Lothian but forgets the millions of tourist and business people who would use a rail link to Edinburgh City?
(BAA are funding a rail station at GLA but pooh-hooing the idea of an EDI station?)
BAA are running scared of the Scottish Executive taking control of EDI?
The obvious BAA categorisation of EDI for short and medium-haul flights.?
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