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Highland airport bosses tell MPs they need ‘roadmap’ to recovery amid warnings of 'eye-watering' losses over the Covid pandemic


By Ali Morrison

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Inverness Airport.
Inverness Airport.

Scottish airport bosses have told MPs about “eye-watering” financial losses at a hearing of the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) chief executive Inglis Lyon was among those giving evidence, alongside the chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, Gordon Dewar, and Brian McClean of AGS Airports Ltd which owns Aberdeen and Glasgow airports.

Mr Lyon said losses suffered by the sector over the past two years were “eye-watering”.

And he added: “The biggest danger we have is that we do not invest in the recovery. The biggest danger we have is that we leave things to chance. We now have to start planning for that recovery, planning to make UK plc one of the places where people want to go to and fly from.

“At the minute that road map, if you want to call it a road map, is just not there.

“We are still very much in fire-fighting mode, which is entirely understandable, but we almost need to be spending as much time on looking at the recovery period as we are doing on the fire-fighting part of it. That is the bit that is missing just now.”

Of the impact of lockdown Mr Dewar said: “At the bottom of the curve we were down at less than one per cent of pre-pandemic levels of demand, which is actually worse than being closed, because you have all the costs of being open but very little revenue to support that. As a business, we probably lost over £100 million over that period.”

Committee chairman, MP Pete Wishart, queried why passenger numbers remained relatively low, when there was now not “much in the way of restrictions.”

Mr Dewar, however, said current restrictions, in his opinion, remained “phenomenal”.

“It has only been in the last week that we have dropped the requirement for pre-departure tests plus a two-day PCR test on arrival, plus self-isolation when you get the answer,” he said.

“If you consider the prospect of somebody coming as an international visitor to Scotland, why would you? The restrictions are far, far harder, and have been throughout the pandemic here in the UK – and in Scotland in particular – than they have been anywhere else, so it is a deeply unattractive place to come, whether for study or tourism.

“If you consider the costs, you are talking about an extra £100 or £150 per person just to meet the regulations. I am talking about some huge uncertainties.

“Typically Edinburgh is pretty balanced 50:50 in terms of inbound international visitors coming here and outbound Scots.

“At the moment, we are about 90:10, so half of our market is missing because Scotland and the UK is an unattractive proposition for people to travel to.

“We are a very, very long way from getting back to anything remotely approaching normal. It would be extremely helpful if we could have a map of how that might come about in the coming months.”

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