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Isles are managing through ash chaos

THE ONGOING disruptions to air services in and out of Shetland have so far not created any “significant difficulties” within the isles, the council’s chief emergency planning officer, John Taylor said on Monday.

The Shetland emergency planning forum met in the afternoon for the first time since the Icelandic ash chaos started five days ago.

Afterwards, Mr Taylor called on islanders to resort to good old community spirit to deal with the current situation.

He said that anybody with concerns or queries should contact their “normal service providers”, be it the health board or council via their normal contact details.

Monday’s meeting was attended by the four emergency services NHS Shetland, SEPA, several council departments and via audio link, NorthLink chief executive Bill Davidson.

Mr Taylor said: “We are in close contact with NorthLink to take people to hospital appointments by boat rather than by air.

“Our advice at the moment is: if your journey is not essential, don’t make it, and if people have exclusive use of a cabin on the ferry it would be helpful if they would be prepared to offer spare places.”

Mr Taylor said there were no issues with teachers turning up late for work as Shetland schools had re-started a week earlier than the rest of the country.

The emergency forum will meet again on Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile Neil Grant, the council’s head of economic development, said on Monday that it was difficult “at this stage” to quantify the economic damage the five day ban on flying had caused.

He said it had become apparent how vulnerable Shetland’s transport links were, and added that the latest disruptions should act as a “wake-up call” to improve the isles’ broadband links.

“What this does underline is the absolute need to get proper broadband services sorted out for Shetland; it re-emphasis the absolute need to get high speed telecommunication links.”

As a result of the disruptions a significant share of council business has been cancelled this week, most notably Tuesday’s special meeting of the infrastructure services committee.

Sumburgh airport manager Nigel Flaws said that between last Thursday and Monday evening 82 flights in and out of Shetland have been cancelled, disrupting the travelling plans of an estimated 1,600 passengers.

As flights are expected to get back to normal again over the few days, the aviation industry is counting the cost of the unprecedented blanket ban on flying.

Industry figures widely quoted suggest daily losses of around £130 million to the whole of the aviation industry with Loganair’s losses understood to be in the region of £100,000 per day.