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Study into restoring business flights discount

TRANSPORT partnership HITRANS has commissioned a study exploring the possibility of business travel being reintroduced as part of the Air Discount Scheme (ADS).

Isles politicians have been calling for the measure since the scheme was restricted to non-business trips back in April 2011 by the SNP government.

HITRANS is looking into whether business travel discounts should be restored along with whether ADS should be extended to include local authority personnel, as well as individual travellers.

The scheme was first introduced by the Labour/Lib Dem coalition in 2006 with a 40 per cent discount on air fares (not including tax). Last year the SNP increased the level of discount to 50 per cent amid continued concern about the high cost of travelling to and from Scotland’s islands and remote parts of the Highlands.

In July 2012 the ADS was reinstated for business trips made by those working in the voluntary, or “third”, sector.

Shetland’s re-elected MSP Tavish Scott said he was pleased HITRANS had initiated the study, adding it “somewhat gives a lie which is that, under EU rules, business could not be admissible”.

“HITRANS take the view I always took, that they are admissible,” he said. “I have no doubt the consultation, or survey, will produce an overwhelming response that it would be good news for islands economies for islands-based businesses to be included in the scheme as they originally were.

“[The research] would be very helpful in presenting the unanswerable case to the government and new transport minister.”

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott welcomed the study and said if there was scope to increase the rate of air discount he would push for it.

It is understood Derek Mackay, who served as transport and islands minister, is likely to be promoted in Nicola Sturgeon’s post-election cabinet shake-up.

During the election campaign, Cameron Smith, the Tories’ Shetland candidate, said he had examined EU legislation and believes there is scope for the ADS discount to be increased to as much as 80 per cent.

Scott said he would “bow to Cameron’s knowledge as he works in Europe all the time”, but that would represent a change in the European Commission’s position. “Ministers were previously told that the limit was 50 per cent – if there is room to push it to 80 per cent we’ll push for it.”

HITRANS has commissioned Reference Economic Consultants to conduct the research. It will meet with Transport Scotland to understand:

  • The trend in the number of ADS-related flights before and after the two changes in business flight eligibility in 2011 and 2012;
  • Trends in ADS funding before and after those two changes;
  • The rationale for, and views on the impacts of, withdrawing ADS for business use;
  • The way in which ADS for third sector business flights has been funded and the supporting rationale for that;
  • Possible means of funding increased ADS eligibility for business use including the inclusion of public sector flights.

An online survey of private businesses is also being conducted to collect data on use of air services including frequency, the purpose of trips, and an estimate of total annual spends on flights.

A copy of the online survey, which is open until Sunday 22 May, can be found here.

The questionnaire will be supported with a series of more in-depth telephone interviews and consultation with airlines Loganair and Eastern Airways.

HITRANS director Ranald Robertson said: “Affordable and reliable air travel is vital to the economic wellbeing of our island and rural communities. Our research aims to demonstrate – through evidence – if there is a case for reinstating the discount for all business flights in recognition of the importance to our communities.”  

Labour’s Highlands and Islands list MSP Rhoda Grant urged people to take part in the research.

“The survey is part of the development of the business case,” she said. “I would encourage as many people as possible to take part and build up a case for this extension with information needed ranging from the frequency of trips to the estimated total annual spend on flights.

“All responses will be treated in strictest confidence and the survey takes about 10 minutes to complete but it will be well worth it if the case can be backed up with firm figures.

“Businesses surviving in remote, fragile communities would find an extension a welcome boost and I will support any move to develop the scheme.”