SUMBURGH Airport’s newly refurbished terminal was officially opened by Scottish transport and islands minister Humza Yousaf on Monday afternoon.
Airport operator HIAL (Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd) has invested just shy of £8 million over three years in an attempt to “create a faster, smoother airport experience for passengers”.
Changes include larger security screening areas and upgrades to the main departure lounge.
Yousaf unveiled a specially-commissioned “restin chair” in the airport terminal’s main concourse to mark its official opening.
The restin chair is a traditional bench, or settles, which was traditionally the chair offered to guests in Shetland homes. The handmade oak bench was produced by local craft business Paparwark Furniture.
The first phase of HIAL’s investment in Sumburgh Airport was undertaken in 2014 and saw major refurbishment carried out on several hangars, a new offshore lounge, briefing facilities and a dedicated area for offshore workers.
Among the airport’s oil and gas industry clients are Shell, BP, Total, Fairfield and EnQuest, with Statoil also starting flights from Sumburgh later this year.
The second, recently completed, phase caters for scheduled passengers with improved check-in, security and baggage reclaim facilities and refurbishments to the main terminal area.
Improvements have also been made to the airport fire station and air traffic control tower.
HIAL chairman Mike Cantlay said it had been an “enormous” piece of work, costing £7.85 million over three years, and pointed to a bright future with a 32 per cent increase in passenger numbers in January.
“Sumburgh Airport is a vital part of the oil and gas industry’s logistics network,” he said, “and is well placed to benefit from continued activity both to the west and east of Shetland that will see a significant upturn in both rotary and fixed wing oil charter activity.
“The airport handled a total of 312,000 passengers in 2015/16 and increased to 335,000 by the end of 2016.”
He said the team at Sumburgh, led by airport development manager Andy Gower, had developed facilities that will “meet the expectations of both scheduled and oil industry travellers including efficient transfer between helicopter and fixed wing aircraft and vice-versa”.
Yousaf said the terminal had been looking “tired and old”, and he was delighted that the government had been able to fund improvements that will benefit island residents, businesses and the experience for tourists visiting Shetland.
“The airport plays a vital role for the oil and gas industry, as well as Shetland’s wider connectivity, and has seen a significant rise in passenger numbers and aircraft movements in recent years.
“These new facilities will improve the passenger experience and help ensure the airport can continue to grow in the future.
“I look forward to watching Sumburgh Airport reap the benefits of this improvement project and continue to build on its recent success.”
Speaking to Shetland News at Sumburgh on Monday afternoon, Yousaf accepted that - while the refurbishment will improve travellers’ experience - one of the biggest impediments to economic activity and tourism remains the high cost of travelling in and out of the islands.
He did, however, point to recent increases in passenger numbers as evidence that the cost "can't be too prohibitive".
In relation to airfares, he said discussions would “always continue” with partners including Loganair, but “everybody understands being in a position of financial constraint is difficult”.
The Scottish Government previously increased the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) from 40 to 50 per cent, but he believes that is the “maximum” permissible under EU regulations.
Plans to alter air passenger duty could also have an impact on fares, but exactly what structure is used “will really come down to discussions with other parties as well, because obviously we need their support to get it through the Scottish Parliament”.