Call for government help as airport warns of 2000 job losses

The Scottish Government is under increasing pressure to step up financial aid for the aviation industry as Edinburgh Airport warned it was “unavoidable” that around a third of jobs could go as it struggles with the economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

The aviation industry is under threat as a result of the coronavirus lockdown according to airport bosses and unions.
The aviation industry is under threat as a result of the coronavirus lockdown according to airport bosses and unions.

In a joint letter with Unite the Union, the airport has written asking to meet Nicola Sturgeon to discuss its future as it estimates up to 2000 of the 7000 jobs on the campus could vanish as a result of the looming rececssion and a reluctance by the travelling public to fly, with a similar fraction of the 21,000 jobs supported by the airport’s supply chain also at risk.

The letter, which was sent to the First Minister last week, sufaced a day after Unite launched its campaign to save jobs linked to Scottish airports, and as the Scottish Government lifted its quarantine restrictions on flights from Spain.

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Signed by airport chief executive Gordon Dewar, and Sandy Smart, Unite's regional organiser, they ask the First Minister to “work with us in protecting the fragile recovery of Scotland; to work with us to save further losses and to develop plans to help those colleagues that we are losing.

“We remain concerned that the horizon of decision making of the Scottish Government in this area is too short term. Businesses across Scotland cannot afford this luxury – we must look to 2021 and beyond whilst still considering the now. If we do not look to next year and beyond, we run the very real risk of winning the 2020 war with coronavirus but losing the peace of the recovery in 2021 and beyond.

"The jobs that are shed now are seen as collateral from dealing with the pandemic. Those that lose their job will be rightly bewildered that the same vigour and focus has not been given to assisting in them in the coming months.

“Edinburgh Airport and Unite remain proactive and willing partners – we have creativity, motivated teams and a hard-earned understanding of our people, businesses and markets. Please work with us to meet the health objectives you have, protect Scotland’s recovery, minimise job losses, tackle the climate challenges of growth and give us all the best platform to build back to a better aviation industry that we had before this pandemic.”

They add: “We don’t want to lose anyone from the team that has seen the airport become such a great success for Scotland but that is now unavoidable. We would welcome a meeting with you to discuss how we can protect further losses and help those in the worst of circumstances.”

While specific demands are not made in the letter, The Scotsman understands that the airport wants to see a temporary lifting of Air Passenger Duty, full consultation on when air bridges are added and when, and for Covid-19 testing at airports rather than blanket quarantine. A focus on smaller companies in aviation, such as flight handling agents, is also vital, as is marketing support, with the airport hoping for an external push to attract tourists in its economic recovery plan.

The letter adds: “Quarantine has intensified the impact of this pandemic on Scottish aviation. We estimate that it has cost Edinburgh Airport alone one million passengers in 2020 since being introduced in June. Previous analyses of aviation’s impact and benefits suggest that 1m passengers equates to 2,500 jobs across all parts of Scotland. This means more jobs added to the many thousands of aviation jobs under threat and limits employers’ ability to mitigate the initial effects of the pandemic on their businesses.

"We are resigned to the fact that given current policies that losses will be substantial and we that have no ability to mitigate them.

“Edinburgh Airport has been consistent in its asks of your government – the airport will survive but are concerned about the organisations in the aviation ecology – the handling agents, airlines, retailers, engineers, construction contractors and so on that its campus supports. The impact on that campus is now beginning to crystallise.

“We and other partners have warned for months of the impending losses. Calculations by Unite and Edinburgh Airport now estimate that the coming weeks with see over 2000 redundancies at Edinburgh Airport from a total of around 7000 jobs supported on the campus. We have no sight at the moment of the impact on the airport’s supply chain or the further 21,000 jobs it supports across Scotland but we believe that the losses will be of a similar magnitude.

"Those that are affected live across the not only Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife, but across the whole of Central Scotland and the loss of jobs will have real impacts on communities across these areas.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We do not underestimate the scale of the global challenge affecting aviation and aerospace.

"Our immediate priority is providing assistance to workers who have lost their jobs, including through our initiative for responding to redundancy situations - Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) - which provides skills development and employability support, and aims to minimise the time people are out of work. We remain in close contact with the trades unions and support their calls for employees whose jobs are affected by this crisis to be treated fairly.

“As part of our £2.3 billion package of business support, the Scottish Government has provided business rates relief for aviation, airports and ground handling providers – something that is not available in England or Wales. Nonetheless, challenges remain. We are working with industry on route recovery strategy, to help rebuild connectivity for business and tourism and win back routes and employment opportunities. Restoring connectivity to the levels we enjoyed in 2019 will take time but we will do all we can help airports rebuild connectivity and return to growth.

“We will respond to the letter shortly.”

Gordon Dewar, CEO, Edinburgh Airport writes:

"It’s no secret that aviation has been hit spectacularly hard by COVID-19. We were the first to feel its effects as passenger numbers plummeted to zero in March and we’ll be the last to be rid of its impact as our recovery looks long and fragile.

Too often the debate on aviation has been on the now – quarantine, airbridges, passenger safety, for example – and it is easy to become fixated on the horizon of a few weeks or a month as we wrestle with incredibly difficult decisions. The reality is we need to look at next year and beyond.

The decisions and strategies that our leaders are making and leading on will have to balance public health with saving jobs, preserving connectivity and preventing further economic harm. The climb out of this catastrophe will be so much harder than the collapse into it.

I would not like to be in the position of making these difficult decisions for the whole country, but I know we’ve had to make difficult decisions as a business.

But we must raise our thinking and our horizon. In many businesses across Scotland, teams are dealing with the impact now and are looking at recovery. This is the basis of sound crisis management.

Our ask is that a similar approach is taken for Scottish aviation and all it supports to protect further job losses and see aviation play its part in the wider Scottish recovery.

The horizon of the debate must move to the coming months and years. How can we support tourism, our higher education institutes, Scottish business? How do we build carbon reduction into the recovery? Without this, Scotland risks feeling the impacts of COIVD -19 for far longer than others.”

Sandy Smart, Unite the Union, regional organiser writes:

"Unite launched our campaign to Save Scotland’s Airports in order to focus the minds of government on the crisis facing all our airports including the centrality of Edinburgh to any national recovery.

"We jointly wrote to the First Minister with the Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport because there is a lot of mutual agreement on the immediate steps which need to be taken in order to protect and save jobs.

"The scale of the potential job losses is currently over 1,000 through redundancy consultations but we now estimate that this could climb to over 2,000 potential redundancies at Edinburgh Airport in the coming weeks due to the pressure on the airport. This is just under a third of all the jobs across the campus.”

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