Criticism of policy
Airport boss: ‘Sturgeon is campaigning against us’
Gordon Dewar: critical of government policy
Edinburgh Airport’s chief executive has accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of campaigning against his industry and said the vaccine roll-out plan was “woefully inadequate”.
Gordon Dewar raised objections to Ms Sturgeon saying at Wednesday’s covid briefing that she would not “right now” be booking summer holidays due to the uncertainty about the state of the pandemic around the world.
Mr Dewar told a parliamentary hearing: “Yesterday, the First Minister actively called for people not to book their summer holidays next year.
“We’ve got the First Minister campaigning against our industry.”
In a brutal assessment of government policy, he said ministers had left Scotland as the last country in Europe without a proper testing system in place.
He said the system for applying vaccine will not be fast enough to prevent the demise of large parts of the aviation industry.
Speaking to Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee today, Mr Dewar spoke of a near wipe-out in passenger traffic – currently down by 95% on last year – and of his frustration over attempts to implement a testing regime at the airport. He accused the government of standing in the way of progress.
“We’ve spent the last three months, nearly four now, trying to agree and implement a robust aviation testing regime,” he said.
“Hurdle after hurdle has been thrown at us and put in our way.
“We’re now in the bizarre position of possibly having to submit an FOI (freedom of information) request to see a submission to ministers containing a proposed solution.”
He said quarantine arrangements, which require incoming passengers to self-isolate for 14 days, are not working as only about 65% of travellers are observing the restrictions.
While the airport has a testing system in place, he said, it is mainly to service the pre-flight requirements of other nations.
He said: “We are still the only country in Europe – and I repeat that, the only country in Europe – that is not using a testing regime to support and make flying safe again.”
As well as the testing regime, he called for a year-long holiday on the air passenger duty tax to encourage airlines to continue offering flights to Scotland as their fleets reduce.
Mr Dewar added: “Unless we get the vaccine deployed by early summer and late spring, we’re actually going to be facing a 29-month winter.
“And let me tell you there are very, very few of the companies in that sector that will survive that.”
Mr Dewar was also critical of the Scottish Government’s vaccine plans.
He said: “We’ve looked at the designs that they’re looking at for their vaccine rollouts, and they are woefully inadequate.
“They will not deliver a wide vaccine capability until the back end of next year as it stands.
“Put this in context – they’re not even attempting to start vaccines at mass drive through centres until February.
“I genuinely think we’ve got an extremely high probability that come March, we will have availability of vaccines – potentially multiple vaccines in fridges in Scotland – and no method of delivering them while people are still dying of Covid.
Edinburgh airport has seen a 95% fall in passengers
“And there will be no prospect of taking away travel restrictions.”
Committee member Annabelle Ewing asked Mr Dewar about the genomic research into Covid-19 that was revealed on Wednesday, pointing to the role of travel causing an upsurge in the virus around Scotland during the summer.
Mr Dewar said: “I had a look at that and what it certainly demonstrates is that quarantine didn’t work.”
Constitution Secretary Mike Russell and national clinical director Jason Leitch appeared before the committee and refuted Mr Dewar’s claims about testing and the government’s approach to the aviation industry.
Mr Russell said the issue of travel is “fundamental” to controlling the virus and denied there is a campaign against aviation.
Responding to Mr Dewar’s comments, he said: “In terms of campaigning against his industry, absolutely not.
“I will be delighted to see that industry flourish and I hope it will again.”
Rennie calls for Tui to be grounded
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has called for travel firm TUI to stop flying out of Glasgow airport, while the site remains in tier 3 restrictions.
The firm is currently advertising Christmas deals, despite “evidence” this week that international travel in the summer contributed to the second wave of covid deaths.
Mr Rennie said: “This is a tough time for travel companies and I understand their desire to keep flying but the restrictions are very clear that people cannot travel into tier 3 areas except for essential travel.
“If people book holidays with TUI and then discover that due to the travel restrictions they are unable to reach the airport, they will not necessarily even be entitled to refunds.
“TUI should ground these flights until airport travel restrictions are relaxed, before more families are left out of pocket.”
Canary Islands back on quarantine list
Travellers returning from the Canary Islands from Saturday will now have to quarantine after a surge in cases on the archipelago meant its travel corridor has been taken away.
Passengers will have to isolate for 14 days if they arrive before Tuesday, but if they arrive after they can opt to buy a private test to cut the period of quarantine to five days.
The update came as it was reported that UK citizens would be barred from entering the EU from 1 January under current coronavirus rules, if no Brexit deal is agreed.
Many experts are sceptical that European states would enforce such a ban and thus cut off lucrative tourism revenue.