THE LATEST results from Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) show that Sumburgh has seen the biggest growth in passenger numbers of any of the company's airports.
HIAL intends to introduce parking charges at Sumburgh for most Shetland residents despite strong local opposition. Plans to bring in the £3 per day charge earlier this summer ground to a halt following a ruck with the council's planning department over erecting barriers on the public road.
The charges have been introduced in Orkney and the Western Isles.
Sumburgh had 63,781 more passengers in the 2017/18 financial year than the previous year with an increase in scheduled flights supporting the oil and gas sector and an increase in offshore traffic.
The figures reflect continued growth in airport traffic which has seen steady growth in passenger numbers at Sumburgh including a 14 per cent rise in passengers in 2017 to 386,039.
HIAL's other major success story, Inverness, saw passenger numbers increase by 46,855 for the financial year. According to HIAL, this illustrates "the airport's importance in terms of global connectivity and as a driver for the Highland region and economy".The airport's Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol flights helped to boost numbers to 875,873
Overall passenger numbers at HIAL's 11 airports were up seven per cent to a record 1.78 million and revenue was up from £22 million to £24.9 million.
But the operating loss for the year for the company that is wholly owned by the Scottish Ministers was £2.2 million compared with £8,000 in 2016/2017.
HIAL chief executive, Inglis Lyon, said the company would continue to work towards ensuring sustainable long-term aviation connectivity for the Highlands and Islands.
He said: "Further development, investment and improvement in connectivity for the region will encourage tourism, attract new inward investment and enhance business opportunities. Ultimately, better accessibility will lead growth and help our communities prosper."
"Over the past year we have achieved some major milestones: 875,000 passengers at Inverness Airport, record numbers at Sumburgh, in Shetland, and new direct routes to Manchester from Stornoway. Each of these achievements illustrate the importance and success of Scotland's regional airports."
HIAL welcomed new flights to some of Europe's busiest transport hubs, connecting businesses with hundreds of destinations around the world through Amsterdam, Gatwick and Heathrow.
Lyon said the steady increase in passengers across the group demonstrated that demand for aviation services in Scotland continued to grow.
"The benefits for local export businesses, now able to reach new markets across the globe, has been transformational," said Lyon.
"HIAL operates within a tight budgetary framework. This means we must continue to achieve economies of scale where possible and managing costs without compromising safety in any way. We will continue to be innovative and adaptive, seeking new business opportunities wherever possible."
He reiterated HIAL's commitment to new remote towers as part of the its air traffic management (ATM) transformation to digital operations.
Lyon said: "The ATM 2030 Programme will change the way air traffic services are provided at seven HIAL airports. This will improve our already high safety levels and provide greater resilience to our operation, leading to better services for our customers.
"In other areas, we are cooperating closely with the UK Government on securing vital slots at the proposed runway extension at London Heathrow. We are also focused on delivering our strategic plan to ensure long-term growth, albeit against an uncertain backdrop as Brexit continues to dominate the domestic political and economic landscape."
HIAL interim chairwoman Lorna Jack, said: "Prioritising aviation service delivery to the communities we serve continues to be our focus. We are working towards delivering a sustainable air transportation service that is fit for the future.
Public subsidies received for the year end March 31 totalled £29 million, compared with £36 million the previous year. This funding was used to support airfield operations and fund terminal and airfield enhancements.
The report also illustrates investment of more than £9.9 million to "improve air services and passenger experience" across the group's airports at Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Dundee, Inverness, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick.
Strong demand on flights from Glasgow to Barra, Islay and Kirkwall saw increases in passenger numbers at these airports, with Kirkwall attracting 195,982 passengers.
Benbecula and Campbeltown airports logged 4.6 per cent and 3.7 per cent year-on-year growth respectively while Tiree passengers grew eight per cent.
Passenger numbers declined at Wick John O'Groats by 16.8 per cent, due in part to a continued reduction in demand from energy sector services to-and-from Aberdeen, while Dundee numbers fell by 43.4 per cent due to the loss of KLM's Dundee to Amsterdam route.