No minister has visited airport to discuss Covid
Gordon Dewar: ‘We are lagging behind our competitors’ (pic: Terry Murden)
No Scottish government minister has visited Edinburgh Airport to discuss the Covid crisis with management, it has emerged.
Gordon Dewar, the airport’s chief executive, told a media briefing that ministers had also failed to respond to a report sent to them in July calling for action to help the aviation sector.
“We had a transport minister here to talk about the sustainability strategy, but we have not had a visit about the impact of the Covid crisis itself,” he said.
Asked if he was surprised by the lack of response, he replied: “Yes. I contrast it with the rescue mission for Prestwick.”
Mr Dewar was speaking ahead of today’s publication of its recovery strategy which says the recovery of Scotland’s aviation sector is the slowest in the UK and continues to lag behind the rest of Europe.
The Importance of Aviation to Scotland’s Economic Success was produced in July, but released publicly today, and sets out where the sector’s recovery currently stands against competitors in the rest of the UK and Europe.
Proposals to consider include alignment with England on testing travellers and a consistent four nations approach to enable Scottish airports to compete with others in the UK.
The report warns that airlines have already moved some capacity to other regions and will mean a meaningful recovery will be pushed into 2022, causing Scotland to compete for capacity from a far weaker position than other countries who have acted quickly.
Mr Dewar said: “Aviation has been one of the hardest hit sectors throughout the pandemic and we will be one of the last to fully recover.
“Unfortunately, we are lagging behind our competitors due to tighter restrictions and slower relaxations and will only isolate ourselves further if we don’t have a coherent strategy in place.”
He told the media: “We are hoping to get back to 2019 levels by 2023. This is very optimistic. If we don’t get it right it could be 2025 or 2026.
“We don’t know what will happen to business travel because a lot is determined by corporate policy.
“We’ve lost 2,000 jobs at the airport and we haven’t had a minister here to talk about it.”
He said there had been “little tangible output” from the Scottish Government’s aviation recovery group, which meets weekly.
“All of our conversations, trying to get them to engage in a few weeks ahead, has been really difficult,” said Mr Dewar.
“The competition for the recovery in the next few years is going to be enormous. There’s been no discussion as to how we make the Scottish and the UK market attractive for next year, which is deeply worrying. In a competitive recovery you really cannot afford to fall too far behind.”
In England, PCR tests will no longer be required for fully vaccinated travellers returning to the country.
On the insistence for testing for returning travellers in Scotland, Mr Dewar said he hoped the government “sees sense”, adding: “It doesn’t achieve anything, doing something different and you just get this cross border transfer.”
Data showed passengers with Scottish addresses travelling through English airports, indicating how customers are avoiding strict Scottish rules. “People have no confidence in the Scottish situation,” he said.
He said staycations have been popular with holidaymakers, but the amount of money spent by local travellers was far lower than the average spend per head of international travellers, and that affects the Scottish economy as a whole.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “This report highlights the importance of aviation to Scotland’s recovery and how the sector links into the wider economy.
Edinburgh airport fears it will fall further behind because of stricter rules
“This is more than just travel and tourism – it’s also about business investment, international trade and exports, and the many thousands of jobs that are supported by Scotland’s connectivity to the world.
“A four nations approach will ensure Scotland remains competitive and well placed to recover sustainably, and we hope this report helps to inform the Scottish Government’s decision.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to make a statement on Covid tests for travellers this week, having said she wanted the restrictions to remain in place “due to significant concerns at the impact on public health”.
However, in a statement on Tuesday she accepted that if Scotland adopts more stringent requirements than England, then people living in Scotland, who want to go abroad, may decide to fly from airports based in England.
“I will be discussing this further with the chief medical officer – with the pragmatic considerations I have just frankly set out and the understandable concerns of the travel industry. It’s not an easy decision and will have implications either way.”