Barra Airport, Outer Hebrides

Refurbishment on a remote island

Refurbishment on a remote island

Like all the islands in the Outer Hebrides, Barra boasts some of the UK’s most stunning scenery. Every year, hundreds of tourists flock to the island to see its natural beauty, but also so they can experience something unique: landing in an aeroplane on a beach.

Barra Airport is the only one in the world where scheduled flights use a tidal beach as the runway. For this reason, its schedule is governed by the ebb and flow of the tide – and when the airport is closed, and the windsocks are down, people are free to walk on the runways which revert to a public beach enjoyed by surfers, dog walkers and families.

Flights operate twice daily to and from Glasgow, and passenger numbers have almost doubled from 7,500 after it opened in the 1970s to 14,800 pre-COVID-19.

In 2022, Barra Airport topped Airways magazine’s poll of the world’s top six must-see runways but as well as being a popular visitor attraction, it provides lifeline services to the island.

To update and increase the comfort and efficiency of the original terminal, while also upgrading its café facilities, the Highlands and Islands Airports Limited Group (HIAL) – which is responsible for the management and operation of 11 regional airports including Barra – invested approximately £1.5 million to modernise the facility.

While the work was being carried out, a temporary partition was installed so that the airport could remain open throughout. 

To improve the thermal efficiency of the building, HIAL also specified an external wall insulation (EWI) system for its main building.

For this, the main contractor – MacInnes Bros Ltd – specified webertherm XP system, which was applied by Matthew McDougall from Pristine Plasterers. The system was made up of webertherm MFD insulation, which increased the level of comfort in the building, and webertherm M1 in Cornish – a one-coat, through-coloured mineral render.

It was finished with a beige marble pebbledash, so the exterior looked as it had done previously and remained in keeping with the surrounding area. This type of finish is popular in exposed areas such as the Isle of Barra as it provides an extra layer of protection from the elements.

The project was completed in August 2023.

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