Covid Scotland: Airports fume after minister picks Barbados flight launch over meeting on Omicron restrictions

Scottish airports have accused ministers of failing to engage with the aviation industry around the impact of the Omicron Covid-19 variant and the changes to travel restrictions.

Transport minister Graeme Dey has said he will not meet with Edinburgh and Glasgow airports until December 15, just under two weeks away, despite the rapidly changing situation with the pandemic.

Mr Dey has been criticised by Edinburgh Airport for failing to find time in his diary to speak to officials about the response to the Omicron variant, despite attending the launch of a new flight route between the airport and Barbados next Wednesday.

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Scottish airports have hit out at what they label a lack of meaningful engagement around Covid restrictions.

Alongside this, no minister was available to speak to the wider aviation industry at the Scottish Government’s own Aviation Working Group’s latest meeting on Thursday afternoon.

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Airport said the business understood the need for restrictions, but claimed the industry was an “afterthought”, with this view echoed by AGS Airports, which owns both Glasgow and Aberdeen airport.

The airports said the response from the Scottish Government was in “stark contrast” with the approach taken by the UK Government, with aviation minister Robert Courts meeting the industry earlier this week to discuss the government’s response to Covid-19.

The spokesperson for Edinburgh Airport added: “We understand the need for restrictions to allow scientists to get ahead of a new variant, but one of the main things we’ve asked for throughout is proactive engagement from government to allow us to plan and respond accordingly. Despite many public and private pleas and requests, we continue to be an afterthought, despite decision making that directly impacts our industry.

“In the week that decisions were made and the Scottish Government called for tighter restrictions, the fact not one Cabinet secretary or minister is prepared to meet with the industry is galling and is in stark contrast to the proactive engagement from the UK Government.

"To offer a meeting on December 16 is extremely poor, especially when the transport minister is due to be at Edinburgh Airport for the launch of a new flight next Wednesday. It seems good news is engagement worthy, but difficult and negative news is to be ignored.”

The spokesperson for AGS Airports said it was “alarming” Scottish Government ministers were not willing to make the time to meet with the industry as part of the working group.

He said: “We have consistently called for meaningful engagement throughout the entire pandemic and at every point it has been lacking.

“The new travel restrictions are hugely damaging for our already fragile industry and while we don’t expect government to involve us in their decision making, we do expect advance notice of an announcement that has such serious implications for aviation and the jobs that rely on it.”

The position of the government was also criticised by Scottish Labour, who said the two-week wait for a meeting was “astonishing”.

The party’s transport spokesperson, Neil Bibby, said decisions around travel restrictions should be discussed with the affected sectors.

He said: “It is astonishing that the aviation industry are being left waiting weeks for a chance to question ministers on decisions that could devastate them and their workforce.

“The First Minister needs to end the political posturing, engage fully with the industry and focus on how to protect lives and livelihoods.”

Responding, a Scottish Government spokesperson said it continued to engage with the industry and that it was important to work on a four-nations basis on international travel.

The spokesperson said: “Recently introduced international travel restrictions were swiftly brought in on a four-nation basis to protect public health while scientific analysis of the Omicron variant continues. We have always been clear that travel is not risk-free during the pandemic and rules can change at short notice.

“Public health will remain our key priority, but there has been regular engagement with the aviation sector over the last 18 months, with regular meetings between the Scottish Government and the industry in order to listen to and act on the sector’s concerns.”

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