MPs report

Devolved travel rules added to airports chaos

Edinburgh Airport health
Airports were hampered by varying travel restrictions

Different travel restrictions applied by the four devolved administrations during the pandemic made “a challenging situation worse” for the aviation sector, according to a new report.

Delays in publishing a recovery plan are now holding up progress in making the sector fit for the 21st Century, it says.

In its report, Airports in Scotland, the Scottish Affairs Committee notes that passenger numbers at Scottish airports in 2020 fell by more than 75%.

The committee heard evidence that the recovery in terms of passenger numbers and the ability for Scotland to connect to other areas is unlikely to happen before 2025.

It said that at its current rate, the UK Government’s strategic framework for aviation recovery – which is currently paused – is unlikely to speed up the sector’s recovery substantially. The committee calls on the Government to publish this as soon as possible.

The report says the sector’s slow recovery is likely to impact future plans for airspace modernisation, as it relies on the sector to fund improvements. The programme has the potential to benefit the whole of the UK by making journey times quicker, quieter and helping to reduce carbon emissions from aviation.

However, the committee warns that the Airspace Modernisation Programme risks collapse unless it is properly funded, making the case for a swift recovery plan even more pertinent.

The covid-19 pandemic and varying travel restrictions throughout the UK magnified the necessity for joined-up Government thinking between the UK and Scottish governments.

This extends to the issue of Air Passenger Duty, which although devolved, is dependent on cross-Government working to resolve legal issues around an exemption for the Highlands and Islands. The Committee urges the governments to come together to explore this issue, which will then allow the introduction of the Air Departure Tax.

Committee chair, Pete Wishart, said: “The covid-19 pandemic was a turbulent time for the airports sector across Scotland. Lockdowns and travel restrictions hit the sector incredibly hard, and the pausing of a recovery plan by the UK Government is prolonging the pain and uncertainty.

“Airports across Scotland offer a lifeline to many rural communities across the country. During the pandemic, airports had to stay open so essential workers can carry on with their important work, and that medicines and goods could get to those who needed them.

“However, we heard in evidence that it would have been cheaper to completely close airports than survive with the trickle of passengers they saw come and go. Now the UK Government must publish its recovery plans for the sector: the uncertainty is continuing to be deeply damaging and delay any progress to make the sector fit for the 21st Century.”  

The committee recommends that the UK Government investigates how money raised from Air Passenger Duty could be used for environmental purposes and report the results of this investigation to the House by the end of 2022.



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