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Airport chiefs warn aviation industry will remain grounded without new Covid testing strategy

Derek Provan at Aberdeen International Airport.
Derek Provan at Aberdeen International Airport.

Airport chiefs are calling on the Scottish Government to prioritise creating a coronavirus testing strategy that will allow the hard-hit sector to get off the ground again.

AGS Airports, which runs the Aberdeen facility, Edinburgh Airport and Airlines UK, the industry association representing UK-registered airlines, have issued joint calls warning that the lack of a testing plan is putting thousands of jobs at risk and “leaving the industry behind”.

Those warnings follow the UK Government’s launch of a “test to release” scheme for international travel which will mean passengers arriving into England are able to reduce mandatory quarantine by at least a week by taking a Covid-19 test after five days.

Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports which also operates Glasgow and Southampton airports, is calling for the creation of a similar strategy in Scotland.

He said: “We now risk being left behind as airlines will opt to relocate their aircraft and, with them, what’s left of our connectivity and the jobs that rely on them.

“We have been calling for the introduction of a testing regime for months and despite putting proposals in front of the Scottish Government, we’re no further forward.

“We can’t have a piecemeal approach when it comes to reopening aviation which is why we need to see urgent progress from the Scottish Government on the introduction of testing – which needs to go hand-in-hand with the vaccination roll-out.”

The new system in England offers passengers an option to book and pay for a Covid-19 test from a private provider on an approved government list, ensuring the NHS Test and Trace testing capacity is protected.

If a negative test is received it frees them from the 10-day isolation commitment.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “The introduction of ‘test to release’ in England is a huge step forward for the aviation industry, which has been decimated by the pandemic and has never had the chance to enter recovery.

“Reducing the quarantine period by more than half will help to open up more markets, and provides a good platform for further discussions with the Government about making use of advances in testing to get rid of quarantine altogether.

“That Scotland has failed to put in place a testing regime at all – not even a trial – is hugely disappointing and somewhat at odds with its status as an aviation nation, and it does place Scottish airports at a serious competitive disadvantage.”

Aviation chiefs have presented plans which could improve on the current quarantine system to the Scottish Government for consideration. They’re currently being considered by ministers and could lead to a scheme pilot.

An Edinburgh Airport spokesman added: “Airports and airlines across Europe continue to plan for the safe restart of aviation, and it is incredibly disappointing that Scotland has decided not to take its seat at that table. Instead we are operating in the worst of both worlds – a competitive landscape where Scotland stands alone and is left behind.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “These claims are simply not true – it is precisely because we value the aviation and travel sector so much that the current measures won’t be in place for a moment longer than is necessary to protect public health and stop transmission of the virus. We absolutely recognise the impact Covid-19 has had on the industry and know how essential it is to our economy and the challenges that we face in helping it recover.

“Throughout the pandemic all decisions on testing and quarantine have been informed by clinical and scientific advice to minimise the risk to public health – while we have not made a final decision, we are not yet satisfied that moving from quarantine to testing would provide enough protection. Meanwhile, we are doing everything we can with the limited resources available to us to support the travel sector through the current crisis.”

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