FLIGHTS in and out of two of Shetland’s smallest islands have been suspended after doubts were raised about insurance and fire cover last week.
As a result the tiny islands of Foula and Out Skerries have had to rely on a ferry service since last weekend when operator Direct Flight stopped flights until the issues were resolved.
The suspension has come as a blow for both islands, making life difficult for residents and visitors alike, especially as the tourist season gets underway.
Islanders will attend a meeting on Monday with Shetland Islands Council transport staff in attempt to sort out the problems as quickly as possible.
Concerns arose last Friday when the Foula Airstrip Trust were discussing insurance cover at their annual general meeting.
They realised that since the Highlands and Islands Fire Board closed the local fire station in 2012, the trust’s insurance policy was no longer adequate to provide cover for their fire crew.
Questions were then raised about whether the crew had adequate training to meet Direct Flight’s safety requirements.
The situation alerted the council and Direct Flight to the situation on Skerries, where the fire station was closed at the same time as Foula two years ago.
As a result the Skerries service was suspended as a precautionary measure.
A meeting on Monday in Lerwick will help to clarify the situation and what is needed to resolve it.
Foula Airstrip Trust chairman Magnus Gear said they had been receiving great help from Shetland Islands Council’s infrastructure and transport departments, as well Voluntary Action Shetland, all week as they attempted to address their difficulties.
Gear said the problems stemmed from the fire board’s decision in 2012 to close the island’s fire station, saying it did not meet its training requirements.
“They were trying to operate a station in the same way they would in Lerwick, which you can’t do when the population is just 32,” he said.
“We were discussing renewing the airstrip’s insurance cover at the trust’s AGM last Friday and realised it was found wanting.
“We made it clear on Saturday to the council who spoke to Direct Flight on our behalf and as a consequence the flights were suspended that day.
“The impact has been quite dramatic for day to day living for people who have appointments on the mainland and for getting supplies in to the island.
“It also causes problems for the local tourism industry as this is our big time of year.”
The ferry service BK Marine is putting on extra sailings to meet demand, but the two hour journey in the open Atlantic in a small boat is far more daunting than a short plane journey and puts some off from making the journey.
The first people to be affected were the local secondary children who had to take the boat to go to school in Lerwick on Monday morning, and Foula’s primary head teacher who had to come to work by boat the same day.
SIC transport planning executive manager Michael Craigie said: “We are hoping it is a fairly straight forward matter and we can sort out what needs to be done to get the service up and running again as soon as possible.”