HoC Scottish Affairs Committee

During the inquiry, the predominant themes that were raised with us included:

  • the importance of post-pandemic economic recovery for Scottish airports;
  • the effect of travel restrictions across the UK and the differing restrictions within it;
  • and connections from Scotland to the rest of the world.

New arrangements for intergovernmental working have come through in the most recent Intergovernmental Review and provide the potential for more effective avenues of communication between all of the Governments within the UK around issues that were raised about airports during the pandemic.

Report Conclusions and Recommendations

Economic recovery for airports

1. The purchase and funding provided to Glasgow Prestwick Airport represents significant issues for the taxpayer. Additionally, the funding received by Glasgow Prestwick Airport from the Scottish Government has ensured there is not a level playing field across airports in Scotland, leading to a distortion in the market. It would have been more appropriate had the money from the Scottish Government been spent across airports in Scotland, rather than being poured into an airport which did not reflect a commercial success. (Paragraph 15)

2. Aviation connectivity from isolated communities in Scotland is a necessity. Lifeline services are essential for the transport of essential supplies, for the movement of people for medical appointments and key personnel in the energy industry as well as to support a thriving business community and to grow international exports from Scotland. We have heard about the perceived conflict with net zero ambitions and keeping isolated communities in Scotland connected to lifeline services, but we are aware of the variety of steps being taken to move towards a carbon neutral aviation and that these steps will not necessarily restrict connectivity. (Paragraph 26)

3. The airspace modernisation programme has the potential to benefit the whole of the UK by making journey times quicker, quieter, and helping to reduce carbon emissions from aviation. We are concerned that this programme, that can offer significant environmental benefits, is at risk of collapse if it is not properly funded. Without a swift financial recovery, Scottish airports reported that they will not have the funds to invest in moving to stage 3 of the airspace change process. The airspace modernisation programme must continue at pace if the benefits are to be fully realised for Scotland and the UK. (Paragraph 34)

4. We are convinced that a UK Government-led recovery plan for airports is urgently needed. The paused strategic framework that is being developed by the Department for Transport for the aviation industry to help them recover from the impact of the covid pandemic needs to be published as soon as possible. As Scottish airports have been more adversely affected by the pandemic than other airports in the UK, the strategic framework should specifically consider policy interventions to help Scottish airports recover. (Paragraph 38)

5. We recommend that the UK Government’s strategic framework for aviation recovery should include:

• How airports in Scotland can increase their passenger numbers and grow their businesses whilst meeting net zero targets and using greener methods of operating;

• How airports in Scotland can continue to deliver current connectivity and recover any routes that have been lost throughout the pandemic; and

• What the context is in which he UK Government would step in with funding for stage 3 of the Airspace Modernisation Programme. (Paragraph 39)

Intergovernmental working

6. During the pandemic, the differing policy choices of the Scottish and UK Government had an effect on the financial stability of airports in Scotland as these policies did not always align. Edinburgh Airport maintained that the Scottish Government’s overly cautious approach was confusing for passengers and did not provide the intended health benefits for those travelling via Scottish airports. It was widely known that people living in Scotland travelled to England to fly out of the UK, which meant reduced passenger numbers and revenue for Scottish airports. The Scottish Government’s stricter approach brought severe difficulties for Scottish airports and people in Scotland. (Paragraph 44)

7. We welcome the publishing of the Intergovernmental Review on 13 January 2022 and we look forward to seeing how interministerial groups will work together to consider how their separate policies will interact with each other in the future, particularly should another pandemic arise. Respect of devolved competencies must continue but if travel restrictions are put in place again to tackle covid-19 or other health emergencies, there must be better coordination on timings and announcements of travel restrictions across the UK, so that joined up working can take place. (Paragraph 45)

8. We recommend that the interministerial group on transport produce a report within the next six months outlining the steps they will take to improve communications between devolved nations around the timings of travel restrictions. It should investigate how to develop new communication processes that respect devolved competencies and explore where joined up working can take place. The interministerial group on transport should also review the effects of the timings of travel restrictions over the pandemic have affected airports. (Paragraph 46)

Air Passenger Duty

9. Now that we have left the European Union, the Scottish Government and the UK Government should work together to resolve any legal issues around the Highlands and Islands exemption as quickly as possible. This will allow for the Scottish Government to alter ADT rates to reach policy goals of better connectivity or reducing carbon emissions. (Paragraph 51)

10. We received limited submissions about ringfencing the funds raised by Air Passenger Duty for environmental purposes. However, we consider the issue to be worth further investigation. (Paragraph 54)

11. We recommend that the UK Government investigate how money raised from Air Passenger Duty could be used for environmental purposes and report the results of this investigation to the House by the end of 2022. (Paragraph 54)

12. Scottish Airports told us that they welcomed the reduction in Air Passenger Duty but would like to have seen this take place in 2022 rather than waiting for its introduction in 2023. However, we recognise the operational issues that carriers would have experienced due to length of time it takes to implement these changes. (Paragraph 57)