PEOPLE travelling from Shetland's islands will be exempt from paying the proposed £3 a day car parking charge at Sumburgh Airport.
Results of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd's (HIAL) recent passenger survey were released on Tuesday (29 May) alongside confirmation of some tweaks to the impending charge, which will come into force from 1 July.
The free drop off/pick up period has been extended from one hour to two hours to accommodate any flight delays.
HIAL will also introduce a compassionate travel policy already used by Loganair with free parking for passengers travelling under the terms of this policy.
But Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the measures are HIAL only "sugar coating" the charges, while he lamented the company's apparent lack of desire to help Shetland Islands Council improve public transport links to the loss-making south mainland airport.
Shetland Islands Council's transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson, meanwhile, said the "scheme in itself has not had any proper consultation".
HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said there "remains an urgent need to raise the revenue required to reinvest in maintaining viable air services for our island communities".
Government owned HIAL announced in March without any consultation that it plans to introduce the £3 a day fee at its Sumburgh, Kirkwall and Stornoway airports, prompting criticism from the public and politicians.
NHS patients and blue badge holders will be exempt from the plans.
The exemptions have now been stretched to include residents from Unst, Yell, Fetlar, Foula, Papa Stour, Whalsay, Skerries, Fair Isle and Bressay.
Inter-island residents can apply to the airport to register one vehicle per household as part of the scheme.
Lyon said: "Clearly, if given a preference, most people would not wish to pay for a service that had previously been provided for free.
"However, there remains an urgent need to raise the revenue required to reinvest in maintaining viable air services for our island communities.
"We believe a fair and proportionate parking charge for airport users is one means of maintaining the necessary investment.
"The money raised will be continuously reinvested to maintain and ultimately improve facilities, ensuring the long-term resilience of airport operations on the islands."
Scott added that he intends to raise the matter during Wednesday's Islands Bill debate at the Scottish Parliament.
"What indeed is now the point of island proofing?" he said.
Thomson added that "HIAL must stop saying they have conducted a consultation".
"This survey has shown some of the real logistical issues arising from introducing car parking charges at Sumburgh, they have seen to those issues by extending the exemption, however the wording of the survey did not render itself to allowing users to put forward all the problems which results from introducing these charges," he continued.
"In allowing islanders from some islands including those in my constituency of the North Isles toll free parking, this is a step back in the right direction, however in doing this HIAL have recognised the logistical problems for those living in remote areas with no bus service to Sumburgh, and have ignored those areas, such as West and North Mainland, who still do not have a direct bus service to Sumburgh.
"In the week the Islands Bill is again debated in Parliament, car parking charges flouts the Island proofing aspect of this and while HIAL have made some strides back in the right direct with the extension of exemptions, they fall some way short of doing what needs to be done, which is a complete halt while a full and proper impact assessment is concluded."
HIAL's recent passenger survey saw 170 people at Sumburgh Airport respond.
Over half of respondents used a private vehicle to travel to and park at Sumburgh, while less than 10 per cent had used the bus.
Over 60 per cent of people said they used the Sumburgh Airport car park "several times a year".
The same amount of respondents said they were at the airport to travel, with the others picking up or dropping off someone else.
Over half of respondents said they would not change the way they would have travelled to the airport if there had been a car parking charge.
When asked what improvements they would like to see at Sumburgh funded by the car parking charges, nearly one third of respondents said they didn't think any were required.