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Airport boss demands talks on ‘clear path to recovery’

Edinburgh Airport health

The airport has suffered despite introducing safety measures

Edinburgh Airport boss Gordon Dewar has warned there is “no clear path to recovery” as it recorded its lowest annual number of passengers since 1995 costing the Scottish economy an estimated £1 billion.

The airport handled just under 3.5m passengers in 2020 – a 76% reduction on the previous year, resulting in 21,000 jobs being lost in the economy.

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport said he was mindful of those who had suffered bereavement and those on the frontline of the pandemic.

Its impact on the economy meant a lot of business which had fought hard to win had now been lost and he called for the UK and Scottish governments to emulate other countries and work with the industry on a recovery plan.

“The fall in our passenger numbers is only one reflection of the long-term damage being inflicted by Covid-19 on Scotland’s economy and its social fabric, but it is a worrying one and there is no clear path to recovery,” he said.

Gordon Dewar

Gordon Dewar: ‘now is the time for a recovery plan’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“Nobody should assume that when the pandemic subsides, life will go back to normal.

“We will be starting from a low level of activity not recorded here since 1995 and the choice of airlines and destinations may be dramatically different to those we had worked hard to build before 2020 and on which many people depend for bringing visitors to Scotland and for holidays and business, including exports.”

He added: “We believe that now is the right time for industry, government and trade unions to be thinking about a substantial economic recovery plan – one that does not distract the health professionals from the important job of saving lives and protecting the NHS today, but one which puts Scotland in the best possible position to recover as quickly as possible when the conditions allow.

“The power and impact of the aviation industry cannot simply be measured on passenger numbers and the number of aircraft arriving and departing – thousands of people rely on airports and airlines, and their vast supply chains, for the income that puts food on the table and pays the bills.


“Other countries are providing support for their aviation sectors and UK and Scottish Governments should do the same.”

Mr Dewar’s comments came as a new study confirms that international travel had the biggest impact on Covid death rates for countries hit in the pandemic’s first wave.

Researchers in Aberdeen, who focused on the world’s worst affected 37 countries, said early restrictions on international travel could have made a difference in the spread.

They found an increase of one million international arrivals was associated with a 3.4% rise in the mean daily increase in Covid-19 deaths.

However, airport managements have accused the UK and Scottish governments of failing to give clear guidance on restrictions and testing. This week Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, effectively ruled out the prospect of foreign holidays this summer.

Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, said the restrictions have been introduced without any consultation.

“This is the third significant announcement regarding travel restrictions in as many weeks which, once again, have been introduced without any consultation whatsoever.

“We’re also lacking any detail on how the latest layer of restrictions will be implemented.


Desolate: Glasgow airport booking hall

“We understand the need for short-term emergency measures, and we all want to see this virus brought under control as quickly as possible, however, it’s imperative government engages with industry on developing a recovery plan.

“Our airports are effectively closed, they have been for almost one year and without a recovery plan from government there is no end in sight.

“We need to see sector specific support beyond the rates relief otherwise our entire industry will remain in a perilous position.”

Collapse in passengers

Independent research on Edinburgh airport’s economic impact suggests the reduction in passenger numbers to a total of 3,478,501 resulted in a cost to the Scottish economy of £1bn and over 21,000 jobs. 

After ten years of significant growth, passenger numbers were down in every quarter as the pandemic took a grip on Scotland with tighter restrictions on travel and border controls.

The vast majority of people travelled before the pandemic hit and numbers plummeted by 99% between April-June, 83% between July-September and 90% between October-December.

QuarterTotal – 2019Total – 2020Total
Full Year14,747,5413,478,501-76%

In early 2020, Edinburgh Airport worked with BiGGAR Economics to understand the positive impact of the airport on Scotland’s economy.

Its report found that in 2019, Edinburgh Airport generated £1.4 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) and 28,000 jobs in the Scottish economy.

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