Edinburgh Airport and AGS Airports, which owns Glasgow and Aberdeen airports, spent five months working with senior Scottish Government clinicians on proposals for a ‘double test’ regime that could have replaced quarantine for those arriving into Scotland.
However, after being told the proposal had been submitted to and then refused by ministers, the companies were forced to submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see the final clinical advice to ministers after clinicians refused to share the submission.
It is believed this request was later refused by the Scottish Government on the basis of being too expensive.
Having spent months working on the proposals at expense to their businesses, it meant the airports were unaware of what had led to the proposals being dropped.
It is understood Scottish Government clinicians had become comfortable enough with the proposals – which would have seen individuals tested on arrival and again five days later – to agree to a pilot of the scheme.
However, in December the proposals were quietly binned.
The airports were told additional advice on the safety of the proposals had been added by civil servants before they were submitted to ministers, but were refused sight of the advice.
They claim the content could have been used to further tweak the scheme to make it more acceptable to ministers.
Both chief executives of the airports hit out at the lack of “meaningful engagement” from the Scottish Government on the issue, stating that while they appreciate the need for restrictions, not enough work was being done to examine alternatives.
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said: “I don’t envy the First Minister’s job as she and her government are making difficult decisions every day, but we would like to help where we can because everyone has a role to play in rebuilding Scotland’s economy.
“We have offered to help government from the outset and those offers remain open, but we do feel extremely frustrated that we worked closely with government for five months, answering questions and using their statistics and modelling, only to be told we weren’t allowed to see what advice was put forward.
"If we knew the issues, then we could work to satisfy or correct them, but that requires a level of trust we just aren’t being shown. We don’t want to be submitting FOIs to find out what the government thought of our proposals, we’d rather be told directly and then constructively work with them.
“The private sector can help in many ways, it is just waiting to be asked. We really hope government understands and realises what we can bring to both ease the burden and help plan for the future – we need to do this together.”
Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, said the proposals could have paved a way forward for the aviation sector to recover through lifting the effective travel ban on incoming travellers.
He said: “The additional restrictions have brought our airports to a complete standstill. Again, these restrictions were announced without any meaningful engagement with the industry or any plan from government on how they will be implemented.
"We fully understand the need for emergency measures at this time. However, they cannot remain in place for longer than is absolutely necessary.
"We have been calling for the introduction of an effective testing regime since the outset of the pandemic and sought meaningful engagement with government on how we can reach the point whereby testing completely eliminates the need for quarantine.
"Despite putting proposals for a testing regime in front of the Scottish Government at the end of last year, we are no further forward on agreeing a balanced, long-term recovery plan that will enable the safe restart of aviation and the re-opening of our economy, without which the very survival of the Scottish aviation industry is at risk”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said it was wrong to say the airports had been forced to submit an FOI to see the advice to ministers.
He said: “This is simply not true – at no point have we told airport stakeholders to submit an FOI to see advice to ministers. We have been as open and constructive as possible in our engagement with them and share as much information as we can.
“We are acutely aware of the impact Covid-19 is having on the industry, and will continue to work with both AGS Airports and Edinburgh Airport to address these challenges.
"We were the first government in the UK to offer rates relief to the sector and will continue doing everything we can with the limited resources available to us to provide support through the current crisis.”