Scots will be forced to travel to London if they want to catch a flight abroad unless SNP ministers come up with an urgent action plan to revive the ailing travel industry, Edinburgh Airport's chief has warned.
Setting out the airport’s ‘asks’ for the new Scottish government, Gordon Dewar said that Scotland’s global influence and economic competitiveness will be undermined unless ministers “engage meaningfully” with airports and airlines.
While a report found that Edinburgh Airport alone generated £1.4 billion in gross value added and 28,000 jobs to the economy in 2019, SNP ministers have been heavily criticised for failing to provide a detailed recovery plan for the beleaguered sector, and implementing a controversial blanket quarantine policy with a loophole that allowed foreign travellers to skip isolation by travelling into Scotland via England.
Mr Dewar stressed the importance of a plan being drawn up to bring the sector out of restrictions, which could be presented to airlines planning routes for the next few months to ensure Scotland does not lose out on flights in the early part of the recovery.
He 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.”
Mr Dewar added that direct connections are “vital” to “avoid us all having to travel through airports in England or in Europe” and for the exporting of goods overseas.
Responding to the news, the Scottish Tories have accused SNP ministers of “burying their heads in the sand” and putting thousands of jobs at risk.
“Throughout the pandemic, the SNP have completely failed to engage properly with our aviation sector,” said transport spokesman Graham Simpson.
“Scotland’s airports can’t be left behind as their English counterparts potentially safely re-open in the coming weeks.”
The Tories have also called for the easing of lockdown restrictions to be sped up, after Nicola Sturgeon’s slight acceleration of planned changes announced on Tuesday was criticised by businesses for not going far enough.
Party leader Douglas Ross has insisted that gyms and outdoor hospitality need to open earlier than the planned April 26 date, and repeated his call for a faster end to restrictions on the indoor openings of pubs, restaurants and cinemas which are currently not due to end until May 17.
He said: "We need to remain cautious - but we also have to recognise the brutal impact that restrictions are having on mental health, physical health and family finances,” adding that positive public health data and the success of the UK vaccination programme suggests “we should go further, faster”.
"Three weeks earlier might not seem like a long time but for a business waiting on grants from the SNP, with no cash coming in, it's an age Jobs are on the line and businesses are going under every day,” he added.
It comes as Scotland’s death toll officially passed the 10,000 mark on Wednesday, although there has been a slight fall in weekly fatality figures.
However, National Records of Scotland figures have also revealed that March was the first month since October that Covid was not the leading cause of death in Scotland.
But Prof Mark Woolhouse, an expert on infectious diseases and adviser to the Government on the pandemic, has warned that case numbers in Scotland are being underestimated by more than a half.
According to data from SPI-M, a subgroup of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), there is a "persistent problem in Scotland and indeed the whole of the UK with missing Covid-19 cases".
Speaking at an online symposium by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Prof Woolhouse added that evidence shows Scotland was not close to eliminating the virus last summer - as Nicola Sturgeon has claimed - and such a prospect in future is unlikely.
Responding to Mr Dewar’s comment, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As we have said previously globally, as well as here in Scotland, the aviation industry faces one of the longest recovery periods from the pandemic.
“Scotland is offering the most comprehensive non-domestic rates relief for the aviation sector in the UK and were the first country in the UK to extend the 100 per cent non-domestic rates relief for the sector for the whole of next year.”