Are Scotland’s airports still open?

By Debbie Jackson
BBC Scotland

  • Published
An empty Glasgow Airport as airlines have grounded all but essential flightsImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
An empty Glasgow Airport as airlines have grounded all but essential flights

As Scotland enters its second week of "stay at home" restrictions, the travel industry continues to feel the impact.

Scotland's airports have become mini ghost towns as more airlines join the list of companies grounding aircraft.

But planes are still flying to and from Scotland’s airports and terminals remain in operation, if increasingly scaled-down.

From Wednesday, two of the country's busiest sites - Aberdeen and Glasgow - are shutting down most of their operations.

With most repatriation flights now complete, owner AGS, says the airports will go into public service mode to support vital links with the Highlands and Islands, for air ambulances and for helicopter connections with offshore oil and gas platforms.

Routes need to remain open for essential workers – like oil and gas specialists - to travel to work, and to facilitate emergency transport.

Image source,
Image caption,
The normally-busy view of flights over Scotland on Wednesday showed little activity

Most airlines have now halted commercial services. British Airways has even suspended operations at Gatwick Airport.

The airline continues to assist the government in getting Britons home after it pledged £75m to charter special flights to bring home UK nationals from countries where commercial flights are unavailable.

Edinburgh Airport said it was working with the airline to bring passengers back to Scotland.

EasyJet, Jet2 and Titan are also involved.

So with fading prospect of foreign holidays and anything but essential travel, how are things looking at Scotland’s airports?

Aberdeen Airport - 'From 10,000 people a day to 86'

Aberdeen is supporting essential services, mainly lifeline links to remote communities in the Highlands and Islands, NHS and air ambulance services, and helicopters for the oil and gas industry. As a result it has turned out to be the busiest of the Scottish airports.

Its staff has been reduced to a bare minimum to greet passengers and retail areas closed.

About 40 staff have been put in furlough under the government’s job retention scheme.

Managing Director Steve Szalay told the BBC: “Ordinarily we would have 10,000 people a day coming in and out. Last week by Monday or Tuesday that was down to about a thousand, then by Friday/Saturday that was down to about 200. And on Sunday we had 86 passengers."

He said: “Most people have got to where they need to be by now, so it is about keeping the vital link open for the oil and gas workers, air ambulances and medical flights where people have to come in from the highlands and islands."

Image caption,
Edinburgh airport expects business to halt completely

Edinburgh Airport - 'expecting passenger numbers to reach zero'

Last week, Edinburgh announced it was expecting passenger numbers to drop from 935,000 in January to almost zero. They are presently 95% down on this time last year.

BA will be flying repatriation flights into the airport. However only six flights showed on its arrivals and departures boards on Tuesday.

Operations have been consolidated into central areas, retail outlets closed and expenditure on capital projects deferred.

Airlines currently flying, including repatriation are: BA, Qatar Airways, Ryanair, KLM and Wizzair.

The airport confirmed staff would be put into furlough but did not reveal the numbers.

Glasgow Airport - 'reducing flights to lifeline services'

Glasgow has offered to support repatriation flights. It still has some domestic routes running: BA to Heathrow, KLM to Schiphol, Aer Lingus and Ryanair to Dublin.

Loganair’s lifeline highlands and islands services are still flying and also the Scottish Air Ambulance Service.

On Tuesday a total of eight flights flew out and into Glasgow Airport.

Operations have been condensed into T1 with aircraft using one pier to save on energy costs.

Some staff will be furloughed. Owners AGS employ 436 staff in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Prestwick Airport is only handling freight

Highlands and Islands Airports - 'a skeleton schedule'

HIAL, which includes Inverness, Dundee and a selection of island airports, closed its terminals to scheduled flights and routine general aviation traffic on Sunday. Now it is working with Transport Scotland and Loganair on a skeleton schedule to provide lifeline and essential services, including NHS passenger transfer, the Royal Mail and the oil and gas industry.

Airports are operating with minimum staff to facilitate delivery of medical and other critical supplies, the transport of key workers and also to enable emergency flights for island communities.

Prestwick Airport - 'freight-only hub'

The Ayrshire airport is closed to passengers but open to cargo.

The aerodrome remains open for incoming and outgoing flights, particularly freight, as the site is a vital connection in the UK's supply chain.

The grounding of the Ryanair fleet has seen the terminal building closed for passengers.

A spokesman said: "Virtually every European airport will be facing a prolonged period of reduced income and activity and Glasgow Prestwick Airport is no different.

"Having assessed the likely impact over the next couple of months, we have now taken the difficult decision to furlough some staff."

Image source, John Menzies
Image caption,
Menzies provides fuelling, ground handling and cargo handling services at 200 airports

Airline services

It is not only the airlines at Scotland’s airports feeling the impact of the coronavirus restrictions.

Aviation bosses have been lobbying the government for a targeted aid package to stop firms going under as a result of the slump in demand.

Ground staff are also facing an uncertain future. John Menzies, the Edinburgh-based aviation services company last week furloughed 17,500 jobs worldwide. That’s more than half its workforce.

On Tuesday, it joined other ground operations companies, including Swissport which had hundreds of jobs under consultation following the collapse of Flybe, to call on the UK government to support the country’s airport infrastructure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Directors and senior management have taken a 20% pay cut.