Scottish airports have failed to recover from the pandemic dealing with some dealing with up to half of the passengers that were travelling in 2019.

Data from the Civil Aviation Authority has revealed that while the numbers of passengers has shot up since 2021 when airports were still impacted by travel restrictions, they were typically dealing with 26% fewer people in 2022 than in 2019.

But the biggest hit has come at Wick John O'Groats airport which has seen numbers drop by nearly half from 13,149 in 2019 to 6935.

The emergence of the post-Covid hit comes as calls are made for a taxpayer-funded investment fund to support the industry.

Glasgow Airport chiefs believe the reintroduction of the fund, abandoned 16 years ago due to state aid concerns, would attract airlines back to Scotland and boost the country’s tourism and hospitality sectors.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar who is due to pay a visit to Glasgow Airport on Tuesday has called for ministers to act to support Scotland's airports and develop new routes so that they can "unlock the economic potential of the nation".

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport said Scotland needed a strategy that "responsibly manages growth in the sector while delivering benefits to the rest of the country".

There were £21.49m passengers using Scotland's airports last year - nearly 7.5m fewer than in 2019 when there were 28.9m going through. Of the UK's major airports, Glasgow which saw £6.51m passengers in 2022, was still 26.3% down on the levels of 2019.

And Edinburgh with 11.25m passengers was at 76% of pre-pandemic levels.

Others faired worse.

The Herald:

Dundee Airport saw 38,451 passengers in 2022 but that is 45.6% down on pre-pandemic levels, Aberdeen with 1.96m last year has seen a 32.7% hit and Prestwick with 445,211 people is down by 30.4% on 2019.

Airports on islands have faired far better.

Sumburgh on Shetland has seen a passenger dip of 7.45% on pre-pandemic levels, Tiree's numbers are down by just 8.2%, Barra has seen a 10.25% drop and Benbecula was down by 12.3%.

The passenger numbers in Scotland for 2022 have trebled since 2021 following the end of the UK's coronavirus travel restrictions in March last year.

Many passengers suffered delays and cancellations in 2022 as the aviation industry struggled to cope with the spike in demand for travel following the scrapping of coronavirus restrictions.

Glasgow Airport said that it estimates that so far in 2023 it is at 86% of pre-Covid levels and said that "given the wider economic significance of the airport" there should be a route investment fund with a regional focus "to help attract airlines back to Scotland".

The Herald:

Plans to relaunch the fund were quietly shelved in 2015 despite there being at the time looser EU rules permitting new versions of the scheme.

In a U-turn on previous pronouncements, Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise admitted they were no longer looking to re-introduce any form of the fund.

The European Commission had relaxed the state aid rules under pressure to boost economic growth before the UK exited the EU.

Airlines flying to airports with fewer than 3m passengers a year were able to receive start-up financial help of up to 50% of airport charges for up to three years following the launch of a new route.

A Glasgow Airport spokesman said: "We are working to rebuild the connectivity that plays such a vital role in supporting every aspect of the economy. The success of the airport and the wider city region are intertwined. Having strong connectivity supports our tourism industry, it provides our businesses with routes to market, it helps attract foreign direct investment and, importantly, it drives wider prosperity by creating meaningful employment."

There are concerns that in recent years Glasgow Airport has lost vital connections to North America and other economic hubs.

Mr Sarwar says that has left Scotland’s largest city with "poor connections to global businesses".

He has accused the SNP of "sitting on its hands" while Scotland's airports and the communities they serve struggle.

A 2017 report from Airlines UK and ABTA, the trade association formerly known as the Association of British Travel Agents, showed that all of Scotland was lagging far behind in global air connectivity, ranking 10th out of 11 similarly sized European countries.

Scottish Labour said the decline was a symptom of the SNP’s record of “managed decline and economic failure” and has demanded action to put aviation and route development at the centre of Scotland’s economic recovery.

Mr Sarwar said: “Scotland’s airports are the gateway to our economy, but years of government failure has pushed them to breaking point.

“This damaging drop in connectivity in Glasgow and across Scotland is consistent with the SNP’s record in government – one of managed decline and economic failure.

“The SNP is choking off Scotland’s potential by letting our connectivity collapse.

“Without a focus on route development connecting Scotland to the rest of the world, our tourism and hospitality sectors risk declining.

“It’s all too clear that SNP inaction is holding Scotland back and disconnecting Scotland from the rest of the world. We need to sell Brand Scotland to the world, not turn our backs to the opportunities that exist.

“Our airports are key to us unleashing our economic potential and taking our place on the world stage – we urgently need a plan to get them back on track."

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport said: “Airports are facilitators for many facets of our economy, not least tourism which remains the single biggest employment industry that we have, so their importance to Scotland to allow it to meet its targets and promises in a whole range of areas should not be underestimated.

“We know the sustainability of aviation is a topic of debate but two things can be true at the same time – the industry can grow while it decarbonises if it is done so in a planned and managed way. I know the sector and others it facilitates are open to the challenge and see decarbonisation as an opportunity but we need a framework to operate under to allow us to do that.

“Connectivity brings the world closer to Scotland meaning we can actively bring in investment and spend to the country while exporting the very best of us to the world, so there are return benefits for everyone.

"We must be careful when considering the future of aviation and its importance to Scotland as an island nation, and ensure that any strategy coherently sets that balance out. It’s too simplistic to call for cuts and reductions as those routes don’t stop, they just move elsewhere – it would be far better for Scotland to have a strategy that seeks to responsibly manage growth in the sector while delivering benefits to the rest of the country.”

Transport Minister Kevin Stewart said: “We are committed to working with Scotland's airports to help restore and grow our international connectivity, while not returning to previous levels of emissions. 

“Our role is complementary to that of airports who have the primary responsibility for securing new routes and working with airlines to make them sustainable.

“We take a partnership approach with Transport Scotland, VisitScotland and Scottish Development International, working with airports and airlines to provide attractive cooperative marketing packages, market intelligence and data promoting the potential of the Scottish market and connectivity with industry.

“We have helped to attract numerous new routes in recent years, including to key markets and hubs in North America, the Middle East and Europe. In 2022, Delta added a new Atlanta route alongside their successful Boston and JFK services to Edinburgh. In addition, WestJet will soon start a new Calgary-Edinburgh route.

“This Scottish Government values the importance of our airports and is committed to further promoting Scotland as an attractive destination for airlines and travellers.”