Key figure at airport announces retirement

Outgoing Aberdeen International Airport consultative committee chairman Peter Smart
Outgoing Aberdeen International Airport consultative committee chairman Peter Smart

A self-confessed aviation “anorak” is stepping down from the key role he has had behind the scenes at Aberdeen International Airport (AIA) for years.

Peter Smart has been a member of the terminal’s consultative committee – representing organisations including Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and Oil and Gas UK, as well as passengers – for more than two decades.

For nearly 15 years, he has been the committee’s chairman and at the heart of discussions ranging from air passenger duty and its impacts to landing slots at London Heathrow and the more recent outcry over the loss of Aberdeen’s air link to London Gatwick.

He is stepping down at the end of this year and the committee is looking to recruit a replacement.

Mr Smart, 71, said: “It’s probably about time for me to hand over to someone else… but I will be doing so with a tear in my eye.”

The heavy-heartedness stems from an obvious passion for Aberdeen’s airport and aviation generally, although his love affair with the industry got off to a rocky start.

He said: “The first time I flew was from Guernsey to Jersey in the late 1960s.

The flight was delayed an hour and we were stuck at the departure gate.

“I also had a real fear of flying back then.”

In 1979, a move to Aberdeen and a job as director of personnel services with Grampian Regional Council (GRC) paved the way for him to become a frequent flyer as his new work required him to visit London regularly.

He said he found the whole process of flying “fascinating” and enjoyed how the stresses of business trips would usually disappear as soon as he arrived at the airport.

While he has lost count of how many times he has flown, he can recite all 120 or so airports he has landed at or taken off from around the world – including several that appear on a “most dangerous” list.

His decades of experience as a passenger, now more than half a century, made him an ideal candidate for the former Air Users’ Council, which he was a member of for six years.

He has been a member of the consultative committee for Aberdeen’s airport since 2000 and became its chairman a few years later.

Mr Smart spent about 30 years in UK local government, including 17 at director level in the former GRC.

He also had a 10-year stint as senior lecturer in human resources management at Robert Gordon University’s Aberdeen Business School.

In retirement, he has served as a visiting professor at Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan and is a lay reader in the Scottish Episcopal Church diocese of Brechin.

He also represents Aberdeen at annual meetings of a UK-wide liaison group for airport consultative committees throughout the UK.

Mr Smart, who hails from West Sussex, recently wrote to north-east MPs highlighting the north-east committee’s concern over the loss of flights to Gatwick since easyJet axed services to the London airport earlier this year.

North-east business leaders have claimed it makes it more difficult to maintain links with the UK’s financial capital while the region’s economy is still trying to recover from the North Sea downturn.

Mr Smart called for the “essential” service to be restored, adding: “We are aware of the current public online petition in support of a resumption of the ABZ-LGW service and have offered our unanimous support to the travellers who have launched it.”

EasyJet cited low demand from passengers as the reason for it ending its Aberdeen-Gatwick service.

Mr Smart said the flights were “well patronised” but the schedule was far from ideal as it did not allow business travellers to attend same-day meetings in the capital, while the lack of an early morning service also meant passengers often needed an overnight stay for onward connections.