The Scottish Government is facing fresh calls to introduce mandatory coronavirus testing for air passengers amid claims jobs could be lost at Aberdeen International Airport.
At a Holyrood debate on the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry, MSPs warned “thousands” of jobs could go if a strategy for the testing of those arriving is not introduced.
It came as new figures emerged showing just around 5% of passengers travelling through Scottish airports had been contacted by contact tracers.
MSPs claimed mandatory testing would encourage more people to travel without the possibility of having to quarantine upon their arrival – and said it would help safeguard jobs.
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett said: “My local airport of Aberdeen knows the importance of testing – with Dyce Airport being used by the UK Government to provide additional testing facilities.
“And with Aberdeen as the busiest helicopter terminal in the world, I know that they will be keen to get on top of the testing regime so that they can help reduce the spread of coronavirus.
“The aviation industry is willing for this change – but the Scottish Government need to help them achieve it, and soon.”
Aberdeen International Airport is already home to a drive-through Covid-19 testing facility.
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald added: “The World Health Organisation has said from the beginning of this crisis that the most important thing for governments to do is to ‘test, test, test’, and it is time that was happening at Scotland’s airports.
“Testing passengers on arrival and again a few days later would give more people the confidence to travel, and give airport staff confidence to go to work.
“The present quarantine regime simply does not do that. With a test centre already in place at Aberdeen International Airport, there is really no excuse for further delay.”
The MSPs’ calls were backed by operator AGS Airports, which is also responsible for Glasgow and Southampton sites.
A spokesman said: “We’re experiencing the worst downturn in aviation history which has had a significant impact on airports throughout the UK, including AGS Airports.
“Tens of thousands of aviation jobs have been lost and this will only get worse without government support.
“This crisis has affected every aspect of our industry, with airlines, ground handling companies, retailers and other support services all making redundancies.
“In addition to sector-specific support, the Government must work quickly and decide upon a testing regime which can be put in place as soon as possible.
“It is the only way we can start working towards safely re-establishing routes whilst at the same protecting both public health and livelihoods.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise the massive importance of the travel industry to Scotland and are doing everything we can with the limited powers available to us to support it through the current crisis.
“But it is essential that the UK Government extends the furlough scheme to stop avoidable job losses – and we have made that point repeatedly to the UK Government.
“If they fail to do so then the necessary financial powers should be transferred to Scotland so that we can take the action needed here.
“On airport testing, we understand industry concerns and want to continue to explore with the sector whether there is a better balance around quarantine, but we are clear that the risk to public health must be minimised.
“Ultimately if we do not keep the virus under control, we make life even harder for the economy and particular sectors – as discussions continue we will hopefully find a balance that manages to weigh up both the public health and economic arguments.”
A spokesman for Transport Scotland added work is under way to restore air travel to the country.
He said: “Scotland’s economy relies on good international connectivity for business and inbound tourism. Air travel also plays an important role domestically, connecting the islands to the mainland, and providing connections for business where other modes of transport offer longer journey times or multiple changes. The pandemic has led to a collapse in demand for travel globally. Limitations on travel and quarantine restrictions throughout summer have meant airlines and airports around the world are currently trying to mitigate further operating losses in order to survive.
“As part of a wider £2.3 billion package of business support, the Scottish Government has provided business rates relief for airports and ground handling providers for financial year 2020/21. Ministers have also written to the Chancellor asking the UK Government to extend the Job Retention Scheme or introduce an alternative scheme which is bespoke to the needs of the aviation industry.
“On route development and recovery work, the immediate objective is to ensure that the most important routes come back for next summer, with a particular focus on our global hub connectivity, our North American connectivity and European cities which are important for tourism and business.
“Restoring job numbers can only happen with a return to previous passenger numbers. Our focus is to restore connectivity as quickly as possible, in a way that ensures the environmental impact is mitigated and incentivises airlines to use the newest, most efficient aircraft to reduce emissions until zero-emission aircraft are available. We don’t yet have levers in relation to tax, however, we are looking at how our route development work can be adapted to incentivise airlines to operate cleaner aircraft on our routes.”
HM Treasury was contacted for comment. Spokespeople have repeatedly told the Evening Express the UK Government will continue to support employment through its “plan for jobs”.