Thousands of jobs have been lost at Scottish airports during the coronavirus pandemic with industry bosses saying restrictions have made the country a “deeply unattractive” destination.
Around 4400 people have lost their livelihoods at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports since Covid-19 brought international travel to a near total halt in March 2020.
At its lowest, Edinburgh airport was experiencing less than 1% of pre-pandemic demand with its chief executive saying it was worse than be closed completely due to running costs.
At a meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday, Scottish airport bosses warned they did not expect a return to normal international travel until 2025/26.
“We were very clearly legislated out of business,” Gordon Dewar, boss of Edinburgh Airport, told MPs.
“We as a business lost over £100m over that period and took on additional debt to cover that.
“We’ve got phenomenal restrictions in place at the moment, it’s only in the last week we’ve dropped the requirement for a pre-departure test.
“Consider the prospect of a person coming as an international visitor. It’s a deeply unattractive place to come for study or tourism.”
Brian McClean, director of communications and sustainability at AGS Airports Ltd, which own Glasgow and Aberdeen airports, said Covid had set the industry back decades.
“At Aberdeen we carried three million in 2019, last year we finished on 1.1m,” he said.
“At Glasgow we carried nine million in 2019, we finished at two million last year.
“The last time we carried two million was in 1973.”
Airports took advantage of the UK furlough scheme and business rates relief from the Scottish Government, but said they had not had any sector-specific support.
Despite a spike in bookings over the weekend, the industry chiefs said passenger confidence is hit every time new restrictions are implemented.
With the twists and turns of the pandemic over the last two years, likened to a “rollercoaster”, they said it would take years for the travel industry to recover.
AGS Airports Ltd said 2000 jobs had been lost at Glasgow, and 400 at Aberdeen.
Edinburgh Airport said 2000 had been lost across the facility’s campus.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Public health remains our key priority, but there has been regular engagement with the aviation sector over the last 18 months with regular meetings between the Scottish Government and the industry in order to listen to and act on the sector’s concerns.
“We fully recognise the impact the pandemic has had on the sector and we continue to engage with the industry in an effort to mitigate economic harms.
“We have extended the 100% non-domestic rates relief for the aviation sector for all of 2021-22 and Transport Scotland’s Aviation Team is also working with airports on route recovery, to help rebuild connectivity for business and tourism. This will help win back routes and employment opportunities.
“The Programme for Government reaffirms our commitment to help airports restore and grow connectivity essential for business, tourism and economic growth.”
The UK Government has been asked for comment.