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Renewed call for HIAL to lower passenger fees

THE GRASSROOTS group campaigning for lower airfares from the Scottish islands has again hit out at airport operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL).

Last week the Scottish Government-owned HIAL reported much improved financial results for 2014/15 – underpinned by a record number of passengers using the company’s 11 airports.

Islanders for Fair Air Fares immediately responded by calling on the organisation to lower its charges to help make flying more affordable.

The group says HIAL is charging £17.04 per passenger in airport usage fees whereas Glasgow (£10.72) and Edinburgh/Aberdeen (£11.66) are significantly cheaper.

The voluntary campaigners – Scott Preston and James Stewart – are set to scale back their efforts at the end of October following several months of hard graft, but addressing the landing charges is one of the three tasks they hope to complete before then.

A spokesman said: “Despite ever growing passenger numbers and substantially increasing levels of revenue from islanders, HIAL continue to operate the same model they always have done, charging the highest passenger fee in Scotland and among the highest landing fees in the UK.

“HIAL have yet to prove they are serving the needs of the islanders in a cost-effective way, they rely on the expenditure of passengers through draconian passenger fees and fail to innovate for a modern transport network.”

HIAL responded by saying those issues would be discussed with the campaign group in the next few weeks: “We look forward to discussing these complex matters with the campaign group in the coming weeks.”

Islanders for Fair Air Fares havs accepted an invitation to meet HIAL’s managing director Inglis Lyon – though a date hasn’t yet been finalised.

Preston and Stewart said their Facebook campaign page would be “much quieter” after 31 October and they would only take on further tasks if it were “absolutely necessary”.

Preston said he had spent around 45 hours a week working voluntarily on the campaign since June, while Stewart had also put in a substantial number of hours.

In addition to meeting HIAL, over the next fortnight they hope to deal with a trading standards complaint about card and PayPal charges for booking flights and to review the compassionate fare scheme Loganair agreed to introduce in response to public unrest.

The campaigners, with the support of over 15,000 followers, have chalked up several major achievements. In addition to compassionate fares, the Scottish Government is to increase the Air Discount Scheme from 40 per cent to 50 per cent from 1 January 2016.

Public attention has also been focused on the growing unreliability of Loganair flights in recent months, forcing the company to take action that many islanders feel is long overdue.

One in four of Loganair’s 2015 flights has been delayed by 15 minutes or more – a performance the airline itself admitted was “exceptionally poor”.

Preston said that, with the support of the public, the difference would be “long lasting and will start to change unfair fares to fairer ones, though still not perfect”.

He urged islanders to continue raising issues with MSPs and councillors to “ensure the fight we have all taken to the government is not lost but continues”, adding that “some politicians have been notable by their absence in supporting you all in this campaign”.