MPs told of cost
Airports won’t recover until 2026 after Covid ‘wipe out’
Glasgow airport during the lockdown
Scotland’s airports may not recover fully from the impact of the pandemic for another five years, according to an industry source.
MPs heard how lockdowns and associated measures to control the spread of Covid have wiped out years of hard work building a portfolio of flights connecting the country with the rest of the world.
Karen Dee, chief executive at trade body the Airport Operators Association (AOA) told the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that the sector was not expecting to recover to its 2019 levels until at least 2025 or 2026.
She added that different decisions across the four governments of the UK had made it more difficult for airports to adapt. Scotland had been more badly affected than England due to the timings of changes, and the differences in holidays.
She said the industry was the first to be hit by the pandemic, and is likely to be the “last out”, adding: “In terms of getting back to 2019 levels, we think we’re [looking at] about 2025 or 2026 before we see that.
“2019 was a record year for UK airports, but we’ve lost an awful lot of connectivity. Airports and airlines that we rely on have taken on huge amounts of debt.”
Ms Dee said that in terms of impact Glasgow airport “has lost all of its transatlantic routes, most of its international routes, and more than half of its domestic routes.”
She added: “Those routes took many years to build up . Airports have to work really quite hard to attract airlines to run routes that take a number of years often to become commercially viable. A lot of that’s been wiped out in a 15- or 20-month period.”
Ms Dee accused the Scottish government of being “overly cautious” about the relaxation of measures, though the UK government had not been much better.
“The UK was very fast in its vaccine rollout and we had hoped that would mean we would see some sort of dividend and being able to open up more quickly but that hasn’t happened,” she said.
“We did suffer a little bit from divergence between the four nations… aviation is a global industry. “It’s very difficult to suddenly impose something at a UK-level but even more difficult if you then start having different approaches between the four nations – and that that did happen.
“Because of your [Scotland’s] different school holidays, which is particularly important for holiday travel, the Scottish airports found [they] were lagging behind even on a UK basis.”
She said she was aware of Scots choosing to travel from English airports as a result of the differences in testing requirements between Scotland and south of the border.
She explained: “What we do know is that the reductions in passenger numbers in Scottish airports have been higher than they have for English airports.
“There is no proof but certainly anecdotal evidence [that Scots have been travelling from English airports].
“I think the system [of testing] overall has been very confusing for consumers and passengers.”