Sumburgh Airport is the main airport serving the Shetland Islands. It is located on the southern tip of the Shetland Mainland, nearly 40 kilometres south of Lerwick. The airport is operated by Highlands & Islands Airports Limited, HIAL.
On 1 April 1995, ownership of the Company transferred from the UK Civil Aviation Authority to the Secretary of State for Scotland and subsequently to the Scottish Ministers.
HIAL receives subsidies from the Scottish Ministers in accordance with Section 34 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 and is sponsored by the Scottish Executive Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department’s Transport Group. Annual Reports and Accounts are submitted to the Scottish Ministers.
The airport is served by Loganair, (currently under franchise to British Airways until 26th October 2008 when Flybe take over the Codeshare agreement), Highland Airways, and Atlantic Airways.
There are direct flights from Sumburgh Airport to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Kirkwall and London Stansted.
A new twice weekly service, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, to Bergen in Norway, was introduced for the summer of 2008. This service proved very popular and will be increased to 3 flights per week for the summer of 2009 with the addition of a Thursday flight.
- Atlantic Airways (London-Stansted)
- Loganair (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Kirkwall), (Bergen, June - August)
- Highland Airways (Inverness)
From the landing of the first aircraft at Sumburgh Links, on 18th April 1933, it was to be another 3 years before a regular scheduled service to Shetland started.
The first scheduled flight to land at Sumburgh, on 2nd June 1936, was a De-Haviland DH89 Dragon Rapide, G-ADDE, belonging to Aberdeen Airways, and piloted by Captain Eric Starling. This flight was followed next day, 3rd June, with the first flight by Highland Airways, also a Dragon Rapide. These flights heralded the start of scheduled aviation in Shetland and brought the added benefit of newspapers and mail reaching Shetland much quicker. The first scheduled airmail service, 3 times a week, being started by Allied Airways, on 23rd November 1937.
The outbreak of WWII saw the airstrip at the Sumburgh Links taken over by the Air Ministry and major works were undertaken to construct runways and associated infrastructure. By 1941 there were 3 operational runways at Sumburgh Aerodrome from which a variety of RAF aircraft, including; Mosquitos, Spitfires, Hurricanes, Swordfish, and Beauforts, flew missions, including the succesful bombing by Mosquitos of the Gestapo headquarters in Oslo.
During the war years scheduled services were continued by Allied Airways, and Scottish Airways.
Following the war, in 1946, BEA (British European Airways) started a scheduled service. Initially the service was operated with Junkers 52s and then Douglas DC3 Dakotas.
During the mid 1960's the main runway, 15/33, was lengthened sufficiently to allow the Dakota to be replaced by the 4 engined Vickers Viscount, an extremely popular and comfortable aircraft, which was the first pressurised aircraft to be used on the service. This in return was replaced in the early 1980s by the very popular twin engined HS748, affectionately referred to as the 'Budgie', although the Viscounts, and indeed the Dakotas, continued to be used for many years by charter flight operators involved in the transfer of workers to offshore oil installations through Sumburgh.
The rapid expansion of oil related traffic through Sumburgh Airport in the late 1970s saw the airport become the fastest growing in the UK, with a peak of 285,000 passengers on 51,000 aircraft movements, in 1978. These figures included construction workers for the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, but their flights went with the re-opening of Scatsta Airport in August 1978.
The old terminal building facility, at the 'Virkie Terminal', was operating well beyond capacity, so a new terminal building, for the offshore oil related traffic, and taxiways were constructed at 'Wilsness', on the east side of the airport, along with a dedicated helicopter runway, 06/24. The new building was officially opened by HRH Princess Alexandra in September 1979.
1979 was also a year which saw the worst accident, at the airport, when on 31st July Dan Air HS748 G-BEKF crashed during take off at the east end of runway 09, with the loss of 17 lives.
Scheduled air services continued to operate from the Virkie terminal until November 1982, when all passenger movements were moved to the Wilsness terminal.
Passenger and flight movements through the airport dropped significantly during the early 1980s, mainly due to the introduction of helicopters, such as the Puma and the Chinook, which could fly direct from Aberdeen to the oilfields. By 1985 there were only 239,000 passengers carried on 17,000 aircraft movements.
The 3rd of April 1985 saw the arrival at Sumburgh of what was to become Shetland's best known aircraft. Bristow Helicopters Sikorsky S61N, G-BDOC, affectionately known as "Oscar Charlie, took up her role as Coastguard Search and Rescue helicopter.
Although the Dan Air crash of 1979 was the worst crash, actually at the airport, a much worse accident happened nearby on 6th November 1986 when a Boeing 234LR Chinook helicopter, G-BWFC, operated by British International Helicopters, crashed 2.5 miles north east of the airport. The aircraft, which had been based at Sumburgh for only a few days, was on approach to the airport, from the Brent C platform, when a catastrophic failure of the forward transmission caused the twin rotors to impact with each other. Of the 44 passengers and 3 crew on board, only two passengers survived.
In 2005 runway 09/27 was extended to a length of 1100m to allow larger aircraft to use the airport. The main part of the extension was to the east end of the runway, Large stones for armouring were imported by barge from Norway, and a large portion of the Wilsness hill, to the north of the terminal building, was quarried to provide rock infill. This also had the added advantage of clearing space next to the terminal for a large car park.
- Sumburgh Airport
- HIAL Annual Report 2005
- Fly Shetland - Atlantic Airways
- Photo Gallery showing aircraft at Sumburgh Airport
- Shetland Crash Log - Loss of Aircraft in WWII by David Hanson
- Landings on runway 33