Pandemic leaves airport modernisation at risk, report finds

Modernisation of airports like Sumburgh could end up grounded because of the Covid crisis.

A Scottish Affairs committee report, which is being released today [Tuesday], has found the pandemic risks impacting progress on airports until at least 2025.

The report warns a significant airspace modernisation programme, which boasts a potential to make journey times quicker, quieter and cleaner, is at risk of collapse – unless it receives proper funding.

The committee has called on the Westminster government to kick-start its strategic framework for aviation recovery, which is currently on pause.

It has issued a stark warning that varying travel restrictions between the four nations and a slow recovery plan for the airports sector are likely to impact further progress and modernisation.

The report – Airports in Scotland – acknowledges the importance of airports to rural communities across the country.

And it insists airports played a major role during the pandemic.

Airports were used to transport people to hospital and supply vital goods and medicines to those in hard-to-reach areas.

But passenger numbers dropped by more than 75 per cent in Scotland during 2020 as the pandemic hit hard.

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial), which operates Sumburgh Airport, has already outlined how travel restrictions and lockdowns contributed to an overall reduction of almost 77 per cent passenger flow across all of its airports for 2020/21.

Hial figures showed just under 393,000 passengers used its 11 airports, compared to 1.68 million during 2019/20.

Sumburgh, which serves the oil and gas sector, was least affected of all Hial’s airports.

But it still saw a 47 per cent reduction in passengers, with numbers down year-on-year from almost 308,000 to just under 163,000.

Now, the committee says varied restrictions across the UK made a challenging situation worse.

Scottish Affairs Committee chairman, Pete Wishart MP, 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.

“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.”


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