From Cambridge to Ebeltoft



Photograph: Aarhus Airport

Text: David Surley


Aarhus and Eastern Jutland is home to many internationally-minded companies and organisations that all contribute to the internationalisation of this area. This month we give the floor to David Surley, Director Route Development at Aarhus Airport.


Back in 2016, I decided I was very ready to exit UK shores and develop my career overseas. It was then that I first talked with the leadership at Aarhus Airport, which quickly led to a firm decision to make the cross-channel jump to Scandinavia. I was genuinely captivated by what the “second city” was flourishing into and was in no doubt that I wanted to be a contributory element. Ironically the ‘moving day’ for house, home and the dog, from Cambridge to Denmark, fell on the exact same day as the Brexit referendum, in June. Overnight we became ‘Brex-ugees’, although during the 4.5 years since then Denmark has truly become home.


Fostering, growing and maintaining relationships

When I first walked along the streets of Aarhus in 2016 and took sight of all the construction, evident growth and outward expansion of the city’s core it became immediately apparent to me that this was really an economy in a sharp upturn. A fast-growing city requires great outward and inward connectivity to enable its people to go about their professional and private lives fully. Fixing the need to take overly long journeys before reaching an extensive choice of flights was something I could help with – my career in airline marketing and network development as well as with airports, has well equipped me to identify the opportunities and turn them into subsequent air service solutions. I was very impressed by the city’s wider tourism and trade development infrastructure. Fostering, growing and maintaining relationships with airline planners who don’t necessarily know Scandinavia that well is what makes my role as Director Route Development so exciting. By the end of 2018 Aarhus Airport had become the fastest-growing in Scandinavia.


Growth highs of 2018 and the even greater high of being awarded the title European Airport of the Year by Europe’s regional airlines in 2019, meant the airport was already taxiing towards a good 2020 trajectory. I don’t think anyone in aviation was prepared for this scale of a worldwide halt in movement arising from a virus outbreak. It’s the most dramatic impact on global travel habits since 9/11. Of course, travelling in a pandemic situation is very difficult where government-imposed restrictions continue to keep us all on edge and partly grounded, despite enormous safety efforts ensuring excellent customer welfare for those that do get to fly. Just like in the wake of 9/11, positivity, a can-do attitude, optimal information flow and solution-orientation are the critical drivers in navigating uncertainty. Personally, I draw from those post 9/11 days in pinpointing the most vital informative touchpoints that can help keep airport-airline relations on track; full readiness to facilitate services operations into place and working as anticipatory and intuitively as possible, to be optimally placed as things start to improve.


"I don't think anyone in aviation was prepared for this scale of worldwide halt in movement arising from a virus outbreak." - David Surley, Director of Route Development at Aarhus Airport

Buy a boat they said

Surrounded by genuinely exceptional natural beauty, just a stone’s throw from one of Scandinavia’s most thriving cities, friendly people and a short commute to work – what’s not to enjoy about living in Ebeltoft. I’m just one of many internationals that seem to have settled there, among more and more. Often I hear that some in Aarhus think the 40-minute drive to Ebeltoft is quite lengthy, but to most coming from overseas, a journey of less than an hour is on the relatively short side.


Becoming part of local society has been easy. I have heard mixed experiences from others moving here, but for me moving to Denmark has been extremely positive. Everyone has been very friendly, welcoming and open towards us. My neighbours said we should get a sailing boat to join the yacht club and make friends – they weren’t wrong – it has been easy to mix, make great friendships and now we struggle for time to fit all the social activities in - albeit the pandemic has slowed things a little this year. Other internationals have mentioned the complexity and importance of language, and I can’t argue, I have also struggled with Danish as it’s the most difficult by far of the three other languages I’ve learned – and I still feel like a beginner after all this time. I am determined to make the confident speaker stage, even if my work is mainly in English and just a little German or Spanish. I thank the Danes for making us feel very accepted here from day one.