The sale of Edinburgh Airport to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) yesterday lifts the cloud of uncertainty that has been looming since its surprise selection as the Scottish airport to be hived off by BAA.
This should also enable both Edinburgh and Glasgow airports to reap the benefits of direct competition with one another, which was, after all, the point of the Competition Commission's requirement for one to be sold.
The £807.2 million paid by GIP is a higher price than anticipated, reflecting the current high demand for infrastructure assets. This should be good news. Despite concerns that it might mean less cash is available for investment, it seems to validate the potential for growth at Scotland's busiest airport. The high price obtained by BAA should also give it more to invest in Glasgow, enabling it to challenge Edinburgh's new owners in attracting more airlines and opening up new routes. BAA should also invest in its other Scottish airport, Aberdeen.
Despite the drop in demand for business travel to and from Edinburgh as a result of job losses in the financial sector, the city's airport has proved particularly resilient through the economic downturn. There are already good public transport connections from the airport to Edinburgh city centre and, when the beleaguered tram project is finally running, journeys should become more streamlined, increasing the prospects for further development.
Whoever ends up running Glasgow City Council must take a lead in ensuring that the city's links with its airport are first class in the new competitive environment.
Edinburgh Airport's promising prospects ought to convince GIP that it has the potential for considerable development in its own right. The danger is that it will be seen as a feeder for GIP's other UK airports, Gatwick and London City. Connections between Edinburgh and London are vital and services to other airports must be retained. Adebayo Ogunlesi, chairman and managing partner of GIP, was promisingly positive yesterday, describing the deal as a significant opportunity to apply the group's operational expertise and knowledge of the global airports sector to develop and enhance the performance of Edinburgh Airport in years to come. If GIP builds on its experience at Gatwick, passengers at Edinburgh could benefit from streamlined check-in procedures and baggage handling.
As a country on the periphery of Europe, Scotland's economic wellbeing depends on good transport links, including direct flights to strategic destinations, both for business travellers and tourists. The new owner of Edinburgh airport must make the most of its acquisition by realising its full potential. Our other airports must also rise to the challenge.
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