The chief executive of Scotland’s busiest airport has said he is expecting a record year bolstered by North America and China expansion.

In an exclusive interview with The Herald, Gordon Dewar reveals plans for new long-distance routes to the East and across the Atlantic, signals the highest number of passengers to date, and broaches reports of the airport being for sale.

Edinburgh Airport is expecting to better its 14.4 million passengers last year amid a raft of new destination wins.

"We hope to get north of 15 million passengers for the first-ever time," said Mr Dewar. "Given it comes after the Covid recovery, we have got to take that as a really big positive.

"There are some particular highlights there, not least the American market where we have seen record numbers of routes and capacity and length of season."

The Herald: Chinese giant Hainan is growing its service from Edinburgh to BeijingChinese giant Hainan is growing its service from Edinburgh to Beijing (Image: Hainan)

JetBlue is launching its first Scottish service from Edinburgh to New York, WestJet added Toronto and Halifax to Calgary, and Hainan increased its Beijing season by nine weeks.

"That demonstrates that the Scottish North American market is very strong, it is growing not just in terms of dots on the map, in terms of places you can go to, but in terms of directionality, so we are seeing more Americans coming this way than ever before, which is great news for all parts of the Scottish economy,” he said.

"The other exciting thing is the seasonality has really stretched, so we are seeing airlines that a few years ago before Covid were only offering a few months in the summer are now doing nine, ten months of the season.

"The other big news this year is we’ve got JetBlue coming in, a completely new airline into the Scottish market, starting with JFK, and we’ve got more Canadian destinations as well with WestJet going to Halifax and Toronto as well as doing Calgary.

"It is very exciting."

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Mr Dewar also pointed to a potential future gain under preclearance with North America, which would mean US customs in Edinburgh would do their check in this country, allowing passengers to leave the destination airport or transfer with greater ease.

"We know that the opportunity is huge, because if you look at what Dublin has achieved as a result of having that for a number of years, they’ve probably got twice the level of service and connectivity to the US that would otherwise probably be the case," he said.

The Herald: Canadian carrier WestJet is added two new destinations from EdinburghCanadian carrier WestJet is added two new destinations from Edinburgh (Image: WestJet)

"It’s hard to be exact with these things, but that is the size of the prize.

"All we really need to get going is the two governments [US and UK], who had got quite close to signing a deal in 2019 but for obvious reasons it got interrupted, to finish off signing that deal and let airports like ourselves get on with pursuing the opportunity to offer that."

READ MORE: Extra flights from Scotland to US

Mr Dewar said: "The airlines have told us they would be very supportive and respond in kind by coming."

He said there is a range of new routes under consideration for Edinburgh, which currently has 152 destinations provided by 35 airlines, adding: "We are looking at the Chinese market, we’ve got Hainan back to Beijing but there are some huge other cities in China that we believe would be really strong candidates for additional connectivity.

The Herald: The solar farm at the airfield provides powerThe solar farm at the airfield provides power (Image: Edinburgh Airport)

"Of course in the North American market there’s a lot more to shoot at. But you don’t even need to look that far, there are still so many more opportunities around particularly Eastern Europe where we could be better connected.

"Many of the cities that were quite well-served pre-Covid have been a bit slow to recover because of business being slower to come back so we are really keen to get old destinations back, but more importantly expanding the frequency and the service levels for the ones who have [come back] but haven’t come back at the same volume."

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In terms of the economic and political backdrop, he said: "What we are looking for, like many businesses, is a stable policy environment … it is about taking this rapid recovery which Scotland is so reliant on in so many sectors and making sure we don’t waste that opportunity."

The Scottish capital's airport is also looking to a more sustainable operation, with an eleven-acre solar farm at the airfield now providing 27% its energy needs.

Asked about reports around the airport being put up for sale by New York-headquartered owner Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), Mr Dewar said: "There has been rumours about the airport for sale every year I’ve been here.

"What’s no secret is we are owned by a private equity fund whose business model is to improve assets and sell them on. So, one day that will come but that’s probably as much as I can say about it at the moment."