HIAL publishes five-year strategy and COVID-19 recovery plan

Decarbonisation and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic are the key priorities for Highlands and Islands Airports (Limited) in its 2021-2026 strategic plan.

In addition to developing a carbon-neutral regional airport network, HIAL will continue to support economic prosperity and deliver social benefit for communities throughout the Highlands and Islands.

By committing to a strategic programme of sustainable low carbon development HIAL will align with the Scottish Government’s strategic objectives. It aims to make all 11 of its airports carbon-neutral, helping Scotland create the world’s first net-zero emission aviation region by 2040.

While Covid-19 has added a severe and unexpected disruption to HIAL’s forward planning, the overall strategic priority remains the decarbonisation of operations and delivering an environmentally sustainable future for aviation services in the Highlands and Islands.

HIAL chair Lorna Jack said: “HIAL’s mission is to create social benefit and economic prosperity by building Scotland’s sustainable regional airport group of the future.

“We recognise we must explore safe, but also different operating models to decarbonise our operations and enable greener air services. With new advances in technology, cleaner air travel will become more viable – and our aim is for HIAL to be at the forefront of Scotland’s efforts to transition to a low carbon future – both in aviation and as a nation.

“Many of the opportunities identified in this plan will not be realised without new initiatives and support from our partners. We will work closely with the Scottish Government and others to achieve our long-term vision of becoming a net-zero carbon regional airport group.”

The global health crisis presented by Covid-19 has been a particularly challenging time for the travel and aviation industry and affected every aspect of HIAL’s operations. Its largest airport at Inverness, which exceeded 946,000 passengers in 2019, reduced to just over 246,000 in 2020 due to travel restrictions. By the end of December 2020, the total year-on-year decline in passenger numbers was 66%, with a reduction in aircraft movement of 42% across all its airports.

Since early March 2020 HIAL’s priority was to protect staff and passengers, while continuing to maintain the viability of the lifeline services.

All airports were made COVID-19-secure with the early adoption of a comprehensive series of mitigation measures including effective passenger management, enhanced cleaning programmes, the use of sanitiser and the introduction of a broad range of PPE.

Closure to routine flights took effect from March 29, 2020. HIAL worked closely with Transport Scotland and airline Loganair to agree a skeleton schedule that continued to provide essential services to remote island communities, including emergency NHS passenger transfer, Royal Mail services and support for the offshore energy industry.

Managing director, Inglis Lyon, said: “The pandemic will continue to have a significant impact on everyone’s lives and considerable impact on our business. However, it has also underlined the significant – even critical – role that HIAL’s airports continue to play in maintaining connectivity for our communities.

“Our staff also demonstrated impressive resilience and a genuine commitment to their communities despite extremely challenging circumstances and deserve our thanks.

“The customer experience has been seriously impacted by pandemic mitigation measures and air services have also been dramatically reduced. Recovery will take time and we aim to rebuild passenger numbers to 2019 levels by 2024/25.

“By protecting air access to communities, we play our part in ensuring that these often more remote communities remain sustainable. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government, partner agencies and our airline partners to retain key routes and to bring in new services where existing ones are cancelled.”

HIAL recently announced it was leading a £3.7million consortium project to develop a sustainable aviation programme to create the UK’s first operationally-based, low-carbon aviation test centre at Kirkwall Airport in the Orkney Islands. It also moved forward with its Air Traffic Management Strategy and progressed the procurement process for our remote tower solution.

The HIAL Strategy and Covid-19 Recovery Plan 2021-26 is available to download on the HIAL website.

Published: 1st February 2021