THE OPERATORS of Sumburgh airport are to stick to their schedule of charging for car parking from July, but the absence of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) top brass at a key meeting on Thursday has irked Shetland Island Council representatives.
HIAL chairwoman Lorna Jack and managing director Inglis Lyon had taken umbrage at the thorny item being included on the Shetland External Transport Forum agenda.
Instead airport manager Andrew Farquhar and his predecessor Lesley Still were parachuted in at the last minute to answer questions about the controversial charging scheme which will see barriers installed in the airport car parks as well as payment machines.
Forum chairman Ryan Thomson said that there would be stiff questioning for the HIAL bosses at a 20 June meeting at the airport.
He said that he had received plenty of public feedback since HIAL publicised a series of exemptions to the £3 per day charge and called on people to make their concerns known. The airport managers said that they had received no representations since the modified scheme was trailed.
HIAL was offering free parking for residents of the smaller isles within Shetland to reflect their difficulty of using bus services, but exactly the same argument could be made for most rural areas in Shetland, Thomson said.
He added that there was a lack of clarity and openness about the scheme that repeated questioning had failed to dispel.
Lerwick North councillor John Fraser said that it was essential for evidence to be provided on how much money was being raised and how it was to be spent.
HIAL, effectively part of government, had also given conflicting statements on the aim of the parking charges; they were either to help plug the airport's annual operating deficit, or to be spent on infrastructure improvements.
He said: "There's an element of dubiety about this. We need a more open, honest and transparent approach.
"The period of time between the announcement and the implementation of the scheme has been far too short to allow for proper consultation."
Also in the meeting, Northern Isles ferry operators Serco NorthLink reported continued growth in business, especially freight, and general customer satisfaction with the service, with 97 per cent of 4,028 passengers rating the service "excellent" or "good", in an iPad survey.
Managing director Stuart Garrett said that the firm would not wait for tendering for a renewed contract next year before continuing to make improvements. It was "far too important" for that, he said.
Loganair director of revenue and scheduling Roy Bogle said that the firm was broadly matching last year's excellent results on its Shetland routes, particularly since the withdrawal of Flybe from the route.
While Aberdeen passenger numbers were well down, Edinburgh had shown a 25 per cent increase and the Wednesday to Saturday Bergen flights were "the star" of the network, showing growth on last year.