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HIAL to examine future of air services to the islands

Sumburgh Airport is one of 11 airports under HIAL's wing.Sumburgh Airport.

A CONSULTATION on what the future of air services in the Highlands and Islands could look like is set to be carried out this year.

Transport minister Humza Yousaf told the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) would be “seeking views on what their strategy should look like over the coming period”.

A spokesman for HIAL said it “will be fully engaging with communities and stakeholders in due course.”

Yousaf’s comments came after a question from Highlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston on what assessments the Scottish Government has carried out into passenger links to the islands.

“Following a discussion at the islands transport forum I assigned HIAL the task of looking at what air services in the Highlands and Islands could and should look like in the future,” the minister said.

News that HIAL would be carrying out consultation was met with some laughs from MSPs in light of the company announcing its proposed car parking charges in March without any prior discussion.

HIAL is a public corporation wholly owned by the Scottish ministers and it operates and manages 11 airports at Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Dundee, Islay, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick.

Halcro Johnston then asked Yousaf if he has had any talks with any new potential airlines on the islands routes, which are solely served by Loganair, and whether he agreed that competition would benefit the level of service provided.

Yousaf responded: “The member will know that Flybe of course entered that market in direct competition to Loganair and actually the market share of people using air services has increased.

“But that no doubt came at an impact to Loganair and to Flybe who eventually ended up pulling out. From the Scottish Government’s perspective we are of course…the more air services, the more connections to our islands, I think the better.

“So therefore if there is an approach, certainly if it comes through Jamie Halcro Johnston or it comes to me direct then I will continue to be open minded about that. The main thing is the sustainability of air services and connectivity of our islands is first and foremost in my mind.”

Speaking afterwards, Halcro Johnston called for HIAL’s consultation to be “wide-ranging” and added it is for “government to create the conditions for operators to succeed” on the isles routes.

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