Glasgow Airport bosses say covid set industry “back decades” as new report published

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Glasgow airport chiefs say they are not operating on a “level playing field” as the UK Government publishes a new report on the toll the pandemic has taken on aviation in Scotland.

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee published its ‘Airports in Scotland’ report yesterday (Tuesday).

And AGS Airport chiefs, who own Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton, told how the pandemic had set their sites “back decades.”

Commissioned last July, the inquiry probed the effect of the pandemic on airports in Scotland after passenger numbers dropped dramatically, hitting the industry hard.

Figures show that passenger numbers hit rock bottom during the coronvirus outbreak – dropping by more than 90 per cent.

Data provided by The Airport Operators Association to the government select committee revealed that 2020 saw a slump of 75.1 per cent – more than three quarters – against a lesser decline of 73.5 per cent south-of-the border.

Two-thirds of passengers – some seven million, traveled between January and March 2020, before numbers dropped by almost 90 per cent between April and December the same year, as tough travel restrictions began to bite.

The industry body also told how they believe that they “are probably looking at 2025 or 2026” before passenger numbers and the ability of Scotland to summarize connections with the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, reaches previous levels.



Glasgow Airport

Post-pandemic economic recovery is crucial for Scottish airports, the committee – which includes Paisley and Renfrewshire South SNP MP Mhairi Black – heard, with the effect of travel restrictions across the UK, differing restrictions with the home nations, and connections from Scotland to the rest of the world all playing a vital role.

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The committee gathered written evidence from the industry, as well as holding three oral evidence sessions during the inquiry.

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They concluded that the pandemic had a “profound effect” on Scottish airports and that finances have suffered, as well as incurring “job losses due to the decrease in passenger numbers”.

It also found that “policy choices made by both the UK and Scottish Government have affected the way airports have been able to respond to the pandemic”,

They also revealed that “passenger numbers across Scotland were severely reduced with Glasgow Airport reporting two million passengers traveling through their airport last year.”

Brian McClean, Director of Communications and Sustainability at AGS Airports, which owns Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton sites, told the inquiry: “This has absolutely set us back decades when it comes to loss of passengers and loss of connectivity.”

Scottish Affairs Committee Chair, SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire, 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.”

He added: “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.”

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The Committee urged government to adopt a series of recommendations as part of a strategic framework for aviation recovery, including helping airports in Scotland to increase passenger numbers and grow their business whilst still meeting net zero targets and using greener methods of operating.

They also urged ministers to examine how airports north-of-the-border can continue to deliver current connectivity and recover routes lost throughout the pandemic as well as examining how the UK Government could help with funding for the Airspace Modernization Programme.

The committee also recommended that a report is produced within the next six months outlining steps to be taken to improve communications between returned nations around the timing of travel restrictions and investigate processes that respect the competencies of returned authorities while exploring opportunities for more joined up working.

Investigations into how the UK Government can better invest money raised through Air Passenger Duty for environmental purposes were also called for, with a report to be presented to MPs before the end of the year.

Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, said: “We welcome the findings of the Scottish Affairs Committee’s report on Airports in Scotland and most importantly its recommendations to the UK Government.

“Our focus at AGS is firmly on recovery, and it is important government understands the road to rebuilding the connectivity that plays a vital role in supporting our economy will be a long and difficult one.”

He added: “The report rightly acknowledges the lack of a level playing field here in Scotland created by the Air Passenger Duty exemption in the Highlands and Islands and the tens of millions in taxpayer’s money poured into Prestwick, which it concludes did not reflect a commercial success.
“A reduction in airlines and aircraft has resulted in consolidation and even greater competition within the aviation industry, which is why it is absolutely imperative this market distortion is addressed.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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