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A £25m expansion of Edinburgh Airport starts later this month

This week has shown in stark contrast the fates of two airports – Prestwick and Edinburgh.

Prestwick Airport - loss making

Prestwick Airport – loss making

Prestwick is in dire straits, despite its passenger numbers continuing to recover. Back in July, it reported a 14% increase to 118,634 people passing through the airport – the eighth consecutive month of year-on-year passenger growth. But earlier this week, the Scottish Government confirmed plans to take it into public ownership. As one commentator put it – not so much ‘Pure Dead Brilliant’ (the airport’s slogan) as mainly dead!

By contrast, Edinburgh Airport is booming. Its latest figures show that it enjoyed its busiest September ever with more than 950,000 passengers, an increase of 9.0% on 2012. Not only that but the airport has also reported its strongest ever quarter, with over three million passengers arriving and departing in July, August and September.

For many years now, Edinburgh has taken the top slot as Scotland’s as busiest airport – it knocked Glasgow off that perch a long time ago. More than 40 airlines use it, serving over 100 destinations. That makes it the 6th largest in the UK.

Gordon Dewar  CEO of Edinburgh Airport

Gordon Dewar
CEO of Edinburgh Airport

According to Gordon Dewar, Edinburgh Airport’s Chief Executive, “We’ve had a massive growth this summer, having also just reported our strongest quarter on record. We’ve clearly been the airport of choice and this is a great validation for Edinburgh Airport and the city as a whole. Throughout the busy summer the passenger has remained our top priority and we want to keep it
that way. We’re constantly working hard to ensure they have the best airport experience possible.”

So what’s the difference? Both are foreign-owned. Prestwick is owned by the New Zealand company, Infratil, which bought it for around £57m 13 years ago. It’s been up for sale since last March but has yet to attract a buyer. It was once Scotland’s international airport. But today, only Ryanair uses the Ayrshire hub. Infratil is unlikely to get more than a nominal sum from the Scottish Government when it nationalises the airport.

Global Infrastructure Partners LogoEdinburgh was sold by BAA two years ago to Global Infrastructure Partners, an American-based private equity firm, for over £800m. There are plans to expand the airport and some estimates have put passenger numbers at over 25 million a year by 2030. Edinburgh has just announced several new routes for 2014, including the first direct service to Chicago which will launch in May. And the £25m terminal expansion will begin later this month which will offer passengers a new state-of-the-art new security facility and retail space.

The answer lies partly in location – but mainly in investment.

Ryanair - the only airline still to use Prestwick

Ryanair – the only airline still to use Prestwick

Prestwick was Scotland’s international airport in the days before the arrival of modern technology. It was guaranteed to be fog-free – but that also meant it was a long way from the main centres of population. It’s simply not conveniently located and the number of both airlines and passengers speak for themselves.

The failure of Prestwick to deliver anything like the returns Infratil was expecting when it bought the airport means that it hasn’t invested in its facilities. The airport looks ‘tired’ and is currently losing about £2m a year; Infratil’s other UK airport, Kent, is also losing substantial sums of money. By contrast, Edinburgh is well located and the start of work this month is just part of a £150m expansion programme over the next five years. No matter what people think of it, the trams will also help support its growth.

So why did the Scottish Government step in to save Prestwick? The simple answer is jobs. Ayrshire could ill-afford the loss of certainly hundreds if not thousands of jobs were it to close. The figures vary but the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, claimed that about 1,400 jobs were linked directly or indirectly with the airport. She told the Scottish Parliament: “We believe Prestwick Airport can have a positive future. It will require investment and it will take time. However, we believe it can be returned to profitability. We also estimate that the cost of closure to the public purse would be very significant and this is an important factor in our decision.”

Only time will tell if Prestick can be returned to viability. But until now, commercial operators have preferred to stay away.

The King of Pop at Craven Cottage <em>Picture: www.offthepost.info</em>

The King of Pop at Craven Cottage Picture: www.offthepost.info

By Stewart Weir

And most definitely a day of winners and losers.

India won the cricket world cup, beating Sri Lanka in an excellent final, Sporting “Hee-Hong” ended José Mourinho’s nine-year unbeaten home record, Rangers lost to Dundee United and with it the chance to go top of the SPL. And, for good measure, Wayne Rooney completely lost the plot.

The other big sporting contest of the day was one which just wasn’t billed anywhere.

Motherwell defeated Aberdeen, but what kicked-off afterwards was just bizarre, with a handshake between Dons boss Craig Brown and ‘Well chairman John Boyle suddenly erupting in to a full-scale, eh, stooshie.

Whether Boyle had attempted a peck on the cheek of his former manager, or Broon had asked where his money was, isn’t clear.

But what we had was 70-year-old Brown almost pulling Boyle’s jacket off as he legged it up the tunnel, closely pursued by Aberdeen’s mild-mannered assistant Archie Knox.

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The polis stepped in before the Pittodrie tag team could throw any telling blows, although the constabulary failed to prevent Mr Boyle from flashing what many described as a threatening pout.

Naturally, I’m expecting this to be taken further, scouring the printed press, waiting for the first MSP to demand punitive action against these reprobates who have given Saga policy-holders a bad name. Or does that only apply to the Old Firm rather than the infirm?

Boyle has sunk big bucks into Motherwell (although not enough in the direction of Brown and Knox by all accounts), and was almost sunk by that generosity as big-money acquisitions like Andy Goram and (without so much of a mention of tax-efficient measures) John Spencer pushed the Wee Alpha with big ambitions into administration, and 19 players into the dole queue.

But Motherwell and Boyle have bounced back, with cup final appearances, European football, and as a feeder club for future Aberdeen managers.

No one can fault Boyle’s dream or ambition of making Motherwell the third team in Scottish football, and a big club.

But if you are thinking big, at least act the same way. What the hell is the chairman of a top-grade Scottish football club doing on the pitch at the full-time whistle? It’s just not the done thing for someone in high office.

Surely the SFA must have at least one rule, regulation or bylaw covering that?

Those who were watching cricket’s world cup final from the off would have seen the confusion at the coin toss, just like the boat race a week ago, a crucial part of any contest.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni spun the coin and thought he had won the toss. But New Zealand match referee Jeff Crowe did not hear a call from Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara.

So amazingly, after that false start, Crowe had to order a re-toss for arguably cricket’s biggest contest.

Sunday was no different when it came to false starts. The British Touring Car Championship, the premier race competition in the UK, was delayed when two cars had a coming-together. Nothing unusual there in a series which prides itself in wheel-to-wheel racing. Except this was on the warm-up lap.

For one team, it should have been a sponsor’s dream. A full 40 seconds focused on the front wing and bumper of the car – except the sponsor’s name was completely obliterated by tyre rubber.

But that indiscretion, rectified by some terrific racing later in the day, was nothing to the shambles in France when the Le Mans Series season got the green light. And that was where the problem lay.

For while everyone at the back of the field started racing, those at the front were still holding station behind the pace car which hadn’t pulled off.

Listen to the commentators – who are obviously in a shed nowhere near the south of France – trying to explain things as you watch the mayhem, battered egos and battered cars here

I know this clip is only three minutes of a six-hour race. But trust me, that was as exciting as it got…

Another sad week for athletics with European women’s marathon champion Živilė Balčiūnaitė banned for two years for doping.

Balčiūnaitė, 32, won the European title last July, becoming the first Lithuanian to take gold in the event.

I have to admit, I was rather suspicious at the time, especially when she kept overtaking the camera crew on their motorbike…

Taking of bikes, I received an advisory note about applying for accreditation for the Scottish Six Days Trial. No, I haven’t become a court correspondent.

This is to do with motorbikes and some of the most difficult off-road riding in the world, staged in the Highlands in May. Indeed, some say you haven’t made it until you’ve won this event.

Which reminded me of some press blurb sent out a year or two back from a manufacturer who listed the previous winners, something like: 2006 – Graham Jarvis, 2005 – Sam Connor, 2004 – Graham Jarvis, 2003 – Joan Pons, 2002 – Amos Bilbao, 2001 – Foot & Mouth.

I still wonder if it was Foot or Mouth who did the steering …

Mentioning court, the jury is still out on the Michael Jackson statue unveiled outside Fulham’s Craven Cottage at the weekend by club owner Mohamed Al-Fayed.

As we know, Jackson was a regular at Fulham in the same way Elvis Presley was in Prestwick.

Mr Al-Fayed was short and sweet when asked about those supporters who objected to the figure, saying they could “go to hell.”

While some liked it, and many turned up for the unveiling ceremony, others said it looked plastic, out of proportion and nothing like the real Michael Jackson.

So, quite lifelike, then…

As is this one.

St Johnstone boss Derek McInnes says the state of the McDiarmid Park pitch is hampering his team.

“It doesn’t lend itself to fluency and can make you look foolish at times,” said McInnes after the loss to Rangers in midweek. “I think it has affected our players a bit in home games as it’s not easy to play on that.”

Perhaps St Johnstone chairman Geoff Brown has got his wires crossed, having the pitch prepared to suit his other sporting love – namely nine-year-old grey Silver By Nature, the Grand National prospect – who, unlike McInnes, likes it good to soft.

Former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward decides it’s time he has his say about Wayne Rooney’s expletive-filled celebration at West Ham. But Woodward also questioned United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s role concerning Rooney.

“Part of the coach’s job is to coach people to handle pressure moments,” said Woodward. “As a coach, you would need to ask ‘Why would you as a player do that?'”

Just as a great many people asked “What did you do, Sir Clive?” during his year in football when technical director at Southampton. Obvious. He became an expert on football.

That’s something basketball star LeBron James will might become after he took up a minority stakeholder in Liverpool FC after signing a representation deal with the club’s owners.

Fenway Sports Group has struck a deal to partner the Miami Heat player’s marketing firm to become his exclusive representatives, worldwide, which includes Liverpool.

James’ knowledge of soccer or that part of the world is probably minimal. So he wouldn’t know that Thursday was the first day of Aintree’s Grand National Meeting, or Liverpool Day as it has become known.

So we had comedian Ken Dodd cutting the ribbon to officially open proceedings, probably his shortest-ever show. And when it came to short, that was also the order of the day in terms of neck and hemlines.

Remember, it is April. It was sunny. And it is Liverpool. Second thoughts, LeBron?

After the rammy a few weeks ago at the Premier League darts in Glasgow, organisers obviously had learned a lesson or two.

Local hero Gary Anderson – whose match against Adrian Lewis sparked some disgusting crowd scenes – won 8–3 against Terry Jenkins, and the audience were happy.

But instead of topping the bill, Anderson was first on, a purely tactical move – before the locals got too tanked up.

Plenty of verbals for Lewis – on second with James Wade – but no beer-chucking. But then it was £4.50 a pint, and it was Aberdeen…

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A Sea King rescue helicopter

A Sea King rescue helicopter

Last Tuesday saw the announcement at Westminster that the privately financed Soteria consortium would run the “joint search and rescue helicopter project”.

Starting in 2012, Soteria will oversee the UK’s mountain rescue and coastguard services in a 25-year contract worth more than £6 billion. There will be a 70 per cent reduction in the number of military aircrew involved in search and rescue (SAR), with civilians being trained to meet the shortfall.

Much of the initial reaction, in Scotland at least, focused on the potential for job losses. Soteria intends to stop using HMS Gannet at Prestwick as their base in that area, switching instead to Glasgow Airport.

Several Ayrshire MPs and MSPs spoke out, but less was heard about what those actively involved in search and resuce think about the changes.

The Caledonian Mercury contacted two very experienced Scottish SAR people, one from the military side of things, one a civilian volunteer, and asked for their views.

David “Heavy” Whalley is one of the most experienced rescuers in Scotland, having spent 38 years as part of various RAF rescue teams, including three years at the rescue coordination centre at RAF Kinloss. Now retired – but still a very active mountaineer and mountain-rescue consultant – he is the statistician for the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland and is working on his eighth round of Munros.

All of this gives him a considerable understanding of the complexities of SAR. “The contract has been set,” says Whalley, speaking in a personal capacity, “and I pray that they have looked at mountain rescue training with teams on a regular basis. This will ensure that those teams who are not used to the new aircraft become familiarised as soon as possible. Remember, the contracts are being set to make money for the companies, and they do that by cutting down on cost.”

David Dodson is the leader of the Lomond mountain rescue team, comprised of civilian volunteers and covering the area north of Glasgow. At present, his team usually, but not exclusively, works with navy helicopters flying out of HMS Gannet.

Dodson’s main concern is that the new arrangement will allow Soteria-controlled helicopters to operate identically to the current military-controlled ones. “They have always tried to reassure our concerns,” he says, “stating that we ought not to notice any difference in their support of mountain rescue activity. That said, with a commercial operation of SAR, issues such as access to helicopters for training purposes, and limit of flying hours, still have to be finalised.”

As for the switch of helicopter type, from the familiar Sea King to the Sikorsky S92, Dodson notes that the Sikorsky is bigger and heavier and is already being used by the coastguard in the north of Scotland.

“Feedback from some of the teams who have worked with them state that the greater downdraught of the S92 compared with the Sea King is significant. This could cause issues on steep icy slopes.”

Mountain rescue personnel working with the S92 have been advised to wear safety goggles and earplugs.

“The Sea King is desperately needing replaced,” says Whalley, who recalls earlier concerns about a switch of helicopter. “When the Sea King took over from the Wessex [in the early 1990s], there was lots of worry about the downdraft. Mountain rescue teams spent a long time getting used to the changes and adapting to the new aircraft, and in the end we got it right.”

Clearly, for all the done-and-dusted-sounding Westminster announcement, there is still much work to be done on the changeover.

“I would like confirmation that there will be no changes to how SAR aircraft help civilian mountain rescue teams,” says Dodson, “down to having no limits to the numbers of joint exercises for training purposes and no change to availability for callouts.”

As for the move from Prestwick to Glasgow, it could well end up helping the Lomond team. “I sympathise with the ramifications to groundcrew/aircrew and their families,” says Dodson. “But being entirely selfish, the change will increase response time and shorten the time for aircraft to leave the search area for refuelling etc.”

Overall, thus far, the announcement appears to have been greeted with a mix of concern and cautious pragmatism. “These are very interesting times,” says Whalley, “and it will take a lot of work by all parties to ensure that the service to the casualty does not suffer. The RAF, Royal Navy and coastguard helicopters have been magnificent over the years. Hopefully the new aircraft and crews will continue to provide an outstanding service.”