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Airfares campaign’s ‘positive’ session with minister

One of the campaign's logos.

CAMPAIGNERS seeking to cut the cost of airfares in and out of Shetland say they are pleased to have received a commitment from Scottish transport and islands minister Derek Mackay to look at long-term solutions to reduce flight prices.

Scott Preston, who is leading the campaign, had a half-hour meeting with Mackay at the Scottish Government’s Glasgow offices on Tuesday.

Afterwards he said it was clear that the minister had read many of the messages on the campaign’s Facebook page and “had taken into account the many representations he had received from MSPs and individuals alike”.

Preston believes that, in addition to 15,000 followers online, there may be as many as 5,000 more supporters who do not use the internet backing their efforts – along with support from Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles councils.

He put forward ideas which the Scottish Government could do to help bring down fares that are “crushing our island economics and pulling apart families”.

Transport and islands minister Derek Mackay.

Areas the SNP adminstration has influence over include the level and terms of the Air Discount Scheme and landing charges at government-owned airports.

“The minister was very keen to stress that he and his team were committed to finding a long term sustainable way to lower costs for air travel to and from the islands, which was a very positive outcome,” Preston said.

“It is clearly a particularly complex issue due to the numbers of people and organisations involved so there is no short term fix, which means solutions won’t happen immediately, but it appears all parties are keen to work together to find a way forward.”

Preston said it was more positive news for the campaign, which was started around a month ago and has already secured airline Loganair’s commitment to introduce a compassionate discount scheme for families suffering bereavement or who have relatives requiring critical medical care.

He said the next steps were to seek a meeting with Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) to explain the impact of the costs it imposes on island communities and to call on the UK Government to address the issue of air passenger duty.

Campaigner Scott Preston with his wife Phoebe. Photo: Shetnews

“I think the fact that our members are generally very polite and fair is what gets us the meetings we need and the results that we’ve had so far including the new compassionate discount fare,” Preston continued.

“Over the last week or so we’ve been seeking the views of the members of the campaign on that discount and have now put together those views into a proposal which we’ll present to the airline next week, and we sincerely hope that the new fare can be introduced before the end of the summer.”

He added: “To move the campaign forward we need all the parties involved to recognise that if each of them can give just a little bit then the likely impact for the islanders and their families will be substantial.”

Following a meeting with campaigners late last month, Loganair chief executive Stewart Adams vowed to work with them to see what progress could be made.

The campaign’s Facebook page continues to be inundated with complaints from passengers irked at having to spend hours waiting around airport lounges.

In the wake of a slew of delays due to “operational” and “technical” issues, Adams also acknowledged that flight reliability had “simply not been good enough in recent months”.

Others grumble that Loganair/Flybe has been overbooking aircraft, leading to staff having to seek volunteers to be bumped off flights at short notice.

Adams said last month that Loganair had invested in a new spares facility at its Glasgow hub to avoid delays in waiting for parts to come from farther afield.