MINISTERS have presided over a 'tsunami' of nearly 5000 job losses in aviation across Scotland after failing to provide direct pandemic support, while using over £1.2 billion of public money to support buses and trains and its own airports, the Herald on Sunday can reveal.

Concerns have been raised about the cuts at privately owned Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports both directly and indirectly from a range of allied companies, including airlines, handling agents, retailers and cleaning and catering firms.

Staffing levels at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have so far been cut by a third from over 14,000 to around 9,500 and despite direct appeals to to Scottish Government to support aviation in the country during lockdown.

All the airports have seen dramatic drops in revenue as passenger numbers slumped by up to 95% of the norm at the height of the pandemic.

Glasgow Airport has seen 2000 of its 6000 pre-pandemic direct and indirect workforce axed so far.

READ MORE: Celtic nations make aviation crisis appeal to Boris Johnson while 2500 Scots jobs are at risk....September 2020

Edinburgh Airport has seen its estimated 6,500 workforce slashed to just around 4500 to date - including a cut of a third directly at the terminals. And at Aberdeen, 500 of 1500 jobs have so far gone.

There is anger that while aviation got no support, buses and trains will have received £1.2 billion so far in supporting buses and trains through the pandemic - all on top of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or furlough launched by the UK Government.

And at the 11 airports operated by state-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, there have been no job cuts amongst its 660 workforce - thanks to a £12.3m of Covid support from the Scottish Government.

The Herald on Sunday can confirm that HIAL, which refused to divulge how much it had received, and provides services for island and remote communities from Campbeltown in the south to Inverness and Sumburgh on Shetland in the north, received £36.6m in public money from ministers in 2020/21 compared to £24.3m the previous year.

Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports, apart from providing services to domestic and international travellers, could not close as they were required to provide vital cargo and freight flights, support lifeline services for Scotland's Highlands and island communities.

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Last week the Herald on Sunday revealed that the Scottish Government gave £1.5m-a-month management and performance fees to ScotRail chiefs on top of massive subsidies and Covid payments which union leaders have condemned as "profiting from the pandemic".

As of March, ministers confirmed that £452m of separate pandemic support had been given through the introduction of pandemic Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) introduced to cover operating costs due to cut revenues due to Covid-19 restrictions and to protect jobs and services.

A similar level of support was expected till March, 2022.

Ministers have already approved spending of nearly £300m of public funds to cover lost income amongst bus operators during the pandemic.

In June, ministers sanctioned £35.4m more to support private bus operators on top of £61.4m made available in 2021/22 and up to £191.3 million that was up for grabs in 2020-21.

One union official told the Herald on Sunday: "I am shocked by the extent of the tsunami of job losses in the aviation sector even though the Scottish Government was warned that there would be pain if they did not provide support. Quite why buses and trains are seen as more important than aviation is baffling."

Experts say the threatened aviation industry is worth £4 billion to Scotland's economy.

Edinburgh Airport, Scotland's busiest in 2019 with 14.7m passengers passing through its terminal went to the banks for the support it needed to get through the crisis with a £75m 18-month loan in April, last year. It also increased its third party funding facility from £980.3m to £1.055bn.

It ended up making a loss for 2020 of £96.5m having turned a £51.1m profit the year before.

An Edinburgh Airport spokesman said: “As Edinburgh Airport we were confident we would see out the pandemic, but it was clear that other firms such as baggage handlers and catering companies, crucial to the whole industry, would be under strain, which was why we called for direct support for those businesses and to protect as many jobs as possible. Despite writing to the First Minister and others, no direct support package was ever put forward.

“Aviation has been one of the sectors hardest hit and will be one of the last to fully recover, and that recovery isn’t as easy as flicking a switch on and everything going back to normal. Airlines have gone bust, thousands of jobs have been lost and destinations will be hard to win back – that was always going to be the case, but the lack of support has made that even harder.”

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Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport along with Unite regional officer Sandy Smart warned the First Minister as early as July last year that the aviation sector was facing a "tidal wave" of job losses at airports and across the wider supply chain without government action.

"Decisions made now will have long lasting impacts on Scotland’s aviation jobs and the county’s future connectivity," they warned.

"We remain concerned that the horizon of decision making of the Scottish Government in this area is too short term," they said. "Businesses across Scotland cannot afford this luxury – we must look to 2021 and beyond whilst still considering the now. If we do not look to next year and beyond, we run the very real risk of winning the 2020 war with coronavirus but losing the peace of the recovery in 2021 and beyond."

The response came from Transport Secretary Michael Matheson who one union official said "passed the buck to the UK Government".

"The most meaningful action that the Scottish Government can take to mitigate against the number of job losses... is to lobby the UK Government to either extend the Job Retention Scheme or to introduce an alternative scheme which is bespoke to the needs of the aviation industry," Mr Matheson said. I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make that requirement clear."

AGS Airports Limited, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports said: "There was no direct support for aviation – furlough and rates were open to all businesses. Again this support, while welcome, dwarfed our losses as a group." That amounted to £138m last year.

Mr Dewar has accused ministers of failing to put in place a strategy for the recovery of Scotland's aviation sector and said that despite the cuts "we haven't had a minister her to talk about it".

The Herald on Sunday can reveal that of 11 recommendations put forward in July, this year, to help the industry recover - none have been actioned.

They included clarity on government support available, a clear roadmap for the easing of Covid restrictions and a simple policy statement on a wish to recover.

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He told the Herald: "We not only have there been no actions taken we've had no response to the report yet.

Edinburgh Airport have further warned ministers that airlines have already moved routes from Scotland to other European cities and that the start of any meaningful recovery would be pushed back into 2022 at the earliest.

He added: "We're hoping that this conversation spurs them into getting into a more engaging forward looking position. I have a lot of sympathy over being in the moment when you're facing a health crisis, but what we've been asking for consistently is to get ahead of the curve and even if we're not ready to do some of the things now, we need to think about what environment do we want to create for next summer.

"How do we get the American carriers to come back as soon as soon a possible, the Middle East carriers to come back as soon as possible. The things that connect us to that wider world are so important for exports and inbound tourism and so on.

"And so we're hoping this is going to spur the conversation for the first time, talking about that recovery period rather than just dealing with the crisis in front of us.

"The number of times they have talked about understanding the economic impacts but they're not looking far enough forward in all of our conversations. Trying to get them to engage in anything beyond a few weeks ahead, has proven really difficult.

"That's been true even of the medical stuff so you know we were talking 18 months ago about vaccine passports and were roundly ignored and it was dismissed as being unnecessary and they didn't like them. And yet here we are."

Earlier this month, the Scottish Government announced that from October, people will need proof they have had two doses of vaccine to enter certain venues and large events.

He said it was surprising there had been no visit to the airport around the negative impact of the of the Covid crisis itself.

"I contrast that with the rescue mission for Prestwick," he said.

"If I were the Glasgow Airport owner, watching subsidised jobs creating new value in Ayrshire while they're laying people off that were otherwise long term sustainable jobs... it's pretty poor."

But he said Scotland has to start competing with other European countries in the recovery of aviation.

"If you look at what's happened in Europe, governments have thrown huge sums of money at airlines and airports. They have put massive sums into marketing the recovery of their tourism trades and much better tax breaks in place for things. "We've done very little of that and there's no ongoing discussion about how we make the Scottish or the UK market attractive again for next year.

"That's deeply worrying because we were already very uncompetitive in terms of value for money, and we kind of traded on the strength we do have which is you know, wonderful castles and whiskey and golf and all the other things.

"But in a competitive recovery, you can't really afford to fall too far behind."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We do not underestimate the significant impact the pandemic has had on the tourism sector.

“Wide-ranging measures were put in place to help the sector. Scotland offers the most comprehensive non-domestic rates relief in the UK for retail, hospitality and aviation, including travel agents. We were the first country in the UK to extend 100% non-domestic rates relief into 2021-22.

“We are working closely with airports and airlines to restore and grow international connectivity essential for business, tourism and economic growth. Our aim is to restore connectivity without restoring previous levels of emissions.

"Financial support for the bus and rail networks allowed them to play vital roles in ensuring people could make essential journeys throughout the pandemic, from key workers to people attending medical appointments. HIAL’s air services have also provided vital connectivity for our remote and island communities during the pandemic."