Aviation bosses threaten to quit Scottish Government working group over Covid-19 test costs

Scotland’s largest aviation businesses, including the owners of Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, have threatened to walk away from a Scottish Government working group over a dispute about the price of Covid-19 tests for travellers arriving into the country, it has emerged.

Industry representatives have reacted with anger after ministers rejected proposals to bring the cost of PCR tests for incoming travellers in line with England.

Warning the current situation, which sees Scots charged up to three times as much for a test than those in England, is diverting passengers and work to elsewhere in the UK, aviation bosses called for movement on the issue “as a matter of urgency”.

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In a letter seen by The Scotsman and sent to Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday, the aviation businesses state they “question the value of ongoing participation” in the working group if there is no movement on key areas of aviation policy.

The Scottish Government is facing aviation bosses walking away from a group looking at how to help the sector recover

Such a move could see test prices stay above those in England, increasing the cost of travel for Scots and, airport bosses argue, extend the duration of time the aviation sector takes to recover.

It would also be the second working group set up by the Scottish Government to collapse in the space of two weeks after Airbnb quit the government’s short-term lets working group early this month.

The aviation working group was set up in February by the then-transport secretary Michael Matheson following the announcement of a hotel quarantine system for Scotland and aimed to help restart the aviation sector as it recovered from the impact of Covid-19.

It contains representatives from Airlines UK, easyJet, Jet2, the Airport Operators Association, Edinburgh Airport, and AGS Airports, which owns Glasgow and Aberdeen airports.

The letter said the sector was frustrated after ministers rejected the proposal from the group to allow for private sector testing in Scotland due to what the businesses state was a “perceived issue with the UK Government and its standards for testing”.

It claims “a truly science and risk-based approach” would support no testing for green country arrivals and for fully-vaccinated arrivals from amber list countries.

The bosses also call for the Scottish Government to reduce the cost of the mandatory NHS testing so it is more in line with the rest of the UK.

The cost of a single test on the second day after arriving into Scotland is £68, while tests are available for as little as £20 in England.

The letter states: “By charging what can be significantly more than the options available in England (which are themselves too expensive) the government is actively dissuading people from travelling through Scotland’s airports resulting in two things – a loss in business in Scottish airports and a loss of active tracing in Scotland.

"In the longer term this risks making flying the preserve of the rich once again, pricing out many hard-working Scots.

"We are already seeing passengers, jobs and skills leave Scotland. Testing policies and high costs are forcing Scots to rely on airports elsewhere in the UK for travel and to export goods and services, or to simply not travel or trade at all.

"Scotland’s tourism industry and businesses across the whole country are being adversely affected as we continue to make it more difficult and expensive to come here.”

The criticism from the aviation sector also follows months of anger around a lack of “meaningful engagement” with the sector by the Scottish Government during the pandemic.

Threatening their ongoing involvement in the working group, the letter adds: “Our goal is to be able to operate safely and to the benefit of the country.

"But without a greater sense of urgency from the Scottish Government, we question the value of ongoing participation in the working group.

"The resulting failure of this working group would be to the ultimate detriment of the customers in Scotland that we are collectively trying to serve.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The cost of the NHS tests which should be used by travellers to Scotland were recently reduced and we welcomed the reduction in that cost.

“We welcome the contributions of the working group and we haven’t rejected any proposals. We continue to work with the UK Government to explore the use of private testing providers for travellers, but we need reassurance that test results will be communicated rapidly and reliably to the customer and to contact tracing services – and that any positive results will be genomically sequenced to identify any variants of concern.”

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