Scotland ‘could lose direct flights, global influence’

The chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, Gordon Dewar, has warned that Scotland’s global influence and economic competitiveness will be undermined unless the new Scottish Government engages meaningfully with airports and airlines.

Edinburgh Airport, normally Scotland’s busiest, has called on the new Scottish Government to “engage energetically” with Scotland’s travel and tourism industries as it considers the country’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dewar predicts that unless “urgent action” is taken, Scotland will support fewer direct routes in the future, and people in Scotland will be forced to fly or export goods through London or European hub airports, making it more expensive to travel to and from Scotland and to do business in foreign markets.

Dewar said: “Scotland has collectively built an impressive network of international air services in the last 20 years, which provides the country with the connectivity on which our global influence and competitiveness depends.

“That network is being undermined by the lack of a detailed Covid recovery plan that we can, as a country, present to airlines to give them the confidence to fly to and from Scotland.

“Direct connections are vital to avoid us all having to travel through airports in England or in Europe; to allow efficient exporting of our goods to overseas markets and to welcome tourists and students to Scotland, on which so many jobs depend.

“Scotland’s recovery from Covid is going to be one of the most difficult challenges that the country has and will ever have faced.

“The pandemic has touched every single aspect of our lives and while we have adapted well to the challenging circumstances, this period will have long-lasting consequences.

“It is imperative that the recovery plan is well-structured and comprehensive and that it engages industry and is not just imposed without an appreciation of the realities of the sector.”

Edinburgh Airport is owned by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), which had been exploring a sale for as much as £2 billion before the pandemic, according to reports.

GIP bought the airport from BAA for £807 million in 2012.

Airlines typically plan and publish schedules months in advance and the airport believes the uncertainty around Scottish airports will lead to a reduction in the number direct flights in the early recovery, risking permanent change and leaving Scotland dependent on airports such as Heathrow for travel and trade.

In addition to the warning on economic competitiveness, Dewar called for the next Scottish Government to engage more meaningfully with airlines and airports, to better support an industry which supports thousands of jobs and generates billions of pounds for the Scottish economy every year.

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

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

The airport’s “asks” of the new administration include:

  • A clear roadmap to recovery for aviation with an understanding of the success metrics, criteria and data being used to decide on next steps
  • A vision to support aviation’s immediate and longer-term future and growth
  • A comprehensive approach to pre-departure and arrival testing to protect public health and allow passengers to travel with confidence
  • A commitment to engage proactively and openly with the industry
  • An agreement to constructively discuss the sustainable future of aviation and the airport’s soon to be published sustainability strategy
  • A commitment to safeguard the sector from the damage of any future restrictions and work closely with airports to protect jobs and established routes
  • An acknowledgement of the importance of the aviation sector to the health of the overall economy

Dewar added: “This is not about the narrow interests of Edinburgh Airport – it is about the social and economic benefits that come to us all from a thriving system of airports and airlines, connecting people and goods and services with the world beyond our shores and forging enduring cultural and educational connections.

“When the election is over and the new Scottish Government elected, we would hope they can get started on the recovery on day one. We will be ready to support wherever and whenever we can, and those conversations must start now.”

In 2018, spending by overnight tourists and day visitors in Scotland was around £10.4 billion.

This generated around £12 billion of economic activity in the wider Scottish economy and contributed around £7 billion to Scottish GDP.

VisitBritain forecasts suggest international visits to Scotland will have declined by 78% in 2020 compared to 2019, with spend having declined by 85% to £388 million.

This suggest 2019 international spending of £2.6 billion.

VisitBritain also forecasts that spending from domestic overnight and day visitors in Scotland will both have reduced in 2020 by around 50% from 2019 levels, to £1.6 billion and £2.8 billion, respectively.