JOHN Menzies, the Edinburgh-based aviation firm, said fewer customers sending cargo led to a profit warning that sent its shares down by 17 per cent in early trading.

The surprise warning came as the firm said trading across the business has been “disappointing”, driven by a smaller number of customers using services and a cut in flights.

It comes as the wider airline and holiday industry is already suffering, with travel firms particularly struggling.

Holidaymakers have been putting plans on hold, with the original Brexit deadline in March said to have caused the ripple of uncertainty.

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John Menzies operates many of the behind-the-scenes parts of airports, including air-side assistance and the refuelling of planes.

The firm severed its links with the newspaper distribution trade in September when it sold its print distribution business to the Endless private equity firm for £74.5 million.

That move came after years of pressure for a break-up from some investors, who believed the aviation services and distribution arms did not belong together, and was to mark a change of fortune.

Giles Wilson, John Menzies chief executive, said: “The overall aviation market is having a difficult year. This inevitably is having an impact on our full-year out-turn.

“However, I firmly believe in the structural growth dynamics within our industry and all historical data points to recovery.” He added that plans to make savings by £10m would be delivered by next year, with “a revitalisation of our commercial offering and a greater focus on returns from the deployment of our systems”.

Menzies, which traces its roots back to a bookshop founded in 1833, in May appointed Swiss private equity fund manager Christian Kappelhoff-Wulff to its board and formed two new committees to consider strategic and structural options.