WORLD ROUTES: Inverness Highlights Value of Hub Connection

UK airport operator HIAL has revealed the essential role hub airport connectivity plays in supporting regional airports such as Inverness, the main gateway to the highlands region in Northern Scotland. After losing an earlier direct flight to London Heathrow operated by Dan-Air, British Airways and then bmi British Midland, the airport was able to secure an international link to Amsterdam in September 2011, a route that is now boosting trade and access in and out of Northern Scotland.

Latest figures show increasing demand for the daily service to Amsterdam, operated by European regional airline, Flybe. The popular Inverness to Amsterdam route, which celebrated its second anniversary last month, has seen a 23 per cent increase in passengers this summer (April to July) compared to the same period in 2012. And new data shows that passengers are increasingly using the service to connect via Amsterdam to destinations across the globe. The top connecting destinations in July were Zurich, Munich, New York (JFK) and Atlanta.

The passenger boost comes as the airline announces changes to the service this winter in a bid to improve connections to an even wider choice of destinations through Schiphol. From October 28, 2013, the weekday flights will depart Inverness at the earlier time of 12:00, arriving into Schiphol at 14:50. Return flights will leave Schiphol at 15:25, arriving into Inverness at 16:15. The service will operate up to six days a week during the winter months.

The earlier departure from Inverness means that passengers can now connect to a wider range of flights from Amsterdam in conjunction with Flybe’s codeshare partner KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and other major international airlines in the Dutch capital. Thanks to this codeshare passengers can now connect through Amsterdam to 150 destinations worldwide with the Dutch carrier.

Speaking to The HUB ahead of World Routes, Inglis Lyon, managing director of Inverness Airport operator HIAL, said: “The Inverness to Amsterdam route was launched in 2011 as a direct result of HIAL, HIE, HITRANS and The Highland Council working together to make the business case and provide funding support for the route.

Two years on, Flybe’s Amsterdam service has become one of the flagship routes to and from the Highlands, and provides vital connectivity for the business community and the tourism industry, not least through Flybe’s partnership with KLM, which gives passengers access to a huge network of destinations,” he added.

Flybe has been happy with the performance of the route, which was initially launched with a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop but upgraded to the larger and faster Embraer 175 from January 2012, shaving ten minutes of the journey time. “We’ve been very pleased with the route’s success to date and with the fact it has proved equally popular with business and leisure markets for both inbound and outbound flights,” said Andrew Strong, managing director, Flybe UK. “This shows that passengers from both countries are benefitting from this convenient and increasingly popular route.”

Flybe is also set to launch its second international service from the Highlands later this year, with a new weekly flight to Geneva, Switzerland’s second city and gateway to the Alps. Flights will operate on a weekly basis every Saturday from December 21, 2013 until March 8, 2014, also using an 88-seat Embraer 175 jet aircraft.

In its latest traffic figures for August 2013, HIAL recorded a five per cent increase in passenger numbers as traffic grew more than 6,4000 to 134,584 passengers. And new figures show almost 37,400 extra travellers have passed through HIAL’s airports this summer. Inverness, handled an extra 1,560 passengers as a result of growth on the Bristol, Birmingham, London and Manchester routes. But the biggest boost came from the city’s Amsterdam service, which recorded a 43 per cent increase in demand.

In line with previous months, Sumburgh and Wick John O’Groats recorded a significant rise in passenger numbers (5,128 and 2,717 respectively) as a result of energy sector traffic. Numbers also increased at Kirkwall, up by 985. At Dundee, and in the Western Isles (Barra, Benbecula and Stornoway), passenger numbers were down as a result of well documented schedule changes. Demand also fell at Islay, Campbeltown and Tiree. Meanwhile, year to date passenger numbers (April-August) have increased by 37,398 compared to last year.

“These figures are hugely encouraging, not least the boost in summer passenger numbers and the massive increase in demand for the Inverness to Amsterdam route, now in its third year, and still exceeding expectations. However, the drop in passenger numbers at many of our smaller airports illustrates that demand is not uniformly strong,” said Lyon.

“Our challenge is to support existing services and grow our route network in order to provide more choice for business and leisure passengers. As a relatively small airport operator with a very distinct network of airports, many of them serving remote and island communities, we face particular challenges. However, we are working hard to deliver more choice for passengers. In recent weeks we have secured additional flights between Edinburgh and Wick John O’Groats, and Glasgow to Sumburgh, and improved connections through Amsterdam this winter,” he added.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) also welcomed the growth in passenger numbers for the Amsterdam service. Figures show an increased visitor spend for the region in 2012 of £2.1 million as well as a £1.5 million benefit to travellers in terms of reduced journey times and costs.

“Good national and international air connections are of immense importance to our region’s economy. HIE is delighted that through our work with HIAL we have been able to support the development of key air links for the region. The Amsterdam service is having a positive impact, making international business and tourism travel easier,” said Alex Paterson, chief executive officer, HIE.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…