SCOTLAND’S airports may not recover from the pandemic since 2026, and have been worse affected than England.

MPs were told of the stark effects of the pandemic by Karen Dee, Chief Executive at trade body the Airport Operators Association (AOA) today.

Ms Dee explained that the airport industry was not expecting to recover to its 2019 levels until at least 2025 or 2026, and many years of work building up sustainable flight routes had been “wiped out” completely during the pandemic.

HeraldScotland: Karen Dee, of AOA, speaking to MPsKaren Dee, of AOA, speaking to MPs

She also said that the changes in coronavirus rules across the four nations of the UK had made things more difficult for airports to adapt, and added that those in Scotland had been worse affected than England due to the timings of changes, and the differences in holidays.

Speaking at the Scottish Affairs Committee, Ms Dee explained that the industry was the first to be hit by the pandemic, and is likely to be the “last out”.

She added: “In terms of getting back to 2019 levels, we think we're [looking at] about 2025 or 2026 before we see that.

“2019 was a record year for UK airports, but we've lost an awful lot of connectivity.

“Airports and airlines that we rely on have taken on huge amounts of debt.”

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Ms Dee said that the Scottish government “in particular” had been “overly cautious” about the relaxation of measures, but added that the UK Government and other devolved nations had not been much better.

She explained that prior to the vaccine being developed it was “understandable” that protocols such as travel corridors were needed, but after the successful vaccine rollout the industry was still restricted in the UK.

Ms Dee said: “We did have a very restrictive system as we moved forward.

“The UK was very fast in its vaccine rollout and we had hoped that would mean we would see some sort of dividend and being able to open up more quickly but that hasn't happened.

“We did suffer a little bit from divergence between the four nations… aviation is a global industry. “It’s very difficult to suddenly impose something at a UK-level but even more difficult if you then start having different approaches between the four nations and that that did happen.

“Scottish airports found that even through this summer there were some delays in bringing forward the relaxations that we saw in England, [they] didn't come on for some while in Scotland and because of your different school holidays, which is particularly important for holiday travel, the Scottish airports found [they] were lagging behind even on a UK basis.”

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Ms Dee said that years of work which has gone in to developing viable travel routes between Scotland and the rest of the UK, Europe and beyond had been “wiped out” by the pandemic.

Glasgow airport was one such example, with Ms Dee explaining the airport “has lost all of its transatlantic routes, most of its international routes, and it's lost more than 50% of its domestic routes as a result of the pandemic.”

She added: “Those routes took many years to build up . Airports have to work really quite hard to attract airlines to run routes that take a number of years often to become commercially viable. A lot of that's been wiped out in a 15- or 20-month period.”

Finishing her evidence to the committee of MPs, Ms Dee said that anecdotally she was aware of Scots choosing to travel from English airports as a result of the differences in testing requirements between Scotland and south of the border.

She explained: “What we do know is that the reductions in passenger numbers in Scottish airports have been higher than they have for English airports. There is no proof but certainly anecdotal evidence [that Scots have been travelling from English airports].

“Scotland was slower to relax some of the testing regimes. In England you could, post-arrival, if you were coming into an English airport, you could find a private testing provider, but the Scottish Government still required Scottish people arriving directly into Scotland to have a test provided by the Scottish Government rather than a test [from] private providers.

“It would be a different arrangement than if they had flown from Manchester, so it didn't make a lot of sense. I think the system overall has been very confusing for consumers and passengers.”