GOVERNMENT-owned airport operator Highland and Islands Airports (HIAL) has come under renewed pressure for its alleged failure to serve rural communities.
Responding to news that HIAL is reviewing its water rescue provision at seven of its 11 airports, including Sumburgh, Kirkwall and Stornoway, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said he would raise the issue directly with Scottish ministers to ensure that local communities have a proper input to the review.
He said he had lost all trust in communicating with the airport operator after it introduced car parking charges at Sumburgh without any local consultation.
“Sumburgh’s geographic position is clear to everyone but apparently not to HIAL. It is surrounded by sea and I wonder if the HIAL board even knows where we are based on this assessment of risk,” he said.
“As there is no point in communicating with HIAL who did not have the courtesy of any Shetland consultation, I will be raising this with Scottish ministers.”
His comments late on Thursday came after the dissatisfaction many rural communities feel with the way HIAL operates was highlighted in parliament by two Highlands and Islands MSPs, John Finnie for the Greens and Tavish Scott.
Finnie said the airport operator was failing in its duties, quoting Inverness Airport’s ‘very poor’ environmental compliance rating from SEPA, the potential threat of strike action from air traffic controllers over fears of centralisation and the lack of consulting remote, rural and island communities on important issues including the introduction of parking charges.
“I gave the cabinet secretary for transport the opportunity to express confidence in HIAL’s management and it won’t be lost on HIAL, and the wider public, that he chose not to endorse their performance,” Finnie said.
HIAL’s managing director Inglis Lyon responded by saying the company has one again invited Finnie to a meeting to address his concerns.
“This is the third time we have attempted to engage with Mr Finnie and we would be delighted if he took up the opportunity,” Lyon said.
He added that throughout the introduction of car parking charges HIAL had “carried out a wide-ranging stakeholder engagement programme”.
“This included consulting with numerous stakeholders which yielded a number of changes which were outlined in a letter to Mr Finnie in May this year following the consultation.
“The money raised from the charges is being continuously reinvested to maintain and ultimately improve facilities, ensuring the long-term resilience of airport operations on the islands.”
Meanwhile, HIAL said that it had been in “discussion with ZetTrans” [Shetland’s Transport Partnership] with regards to making changes to the local bus service timetable to and from Sumburgh Airport to help better serve the residents of Shetland”.
Earlier on Thursday Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson told parliament that the government had encouraged HIAL to work with the local authority on the matter.
However, Shetland Islands Council said on Friday that so far HIAL had made just one approach and no detailed discussions on the matter had taken place.
ZetTrans chairman, councillor Ryan Thomson, said the south mainland bus was not a dedicated airport service.
“If they [HIAL] feel one is required, we would be happy to work with them and the Scottish Government, on the provision that full costs are incurred by either HIAL or the government, and not the SIC,” he said.
Thomson, meanwhile, has said that HIAL has changed its policy on the car parking charge exemption for people living on Shetland’s outer islands. He said the rule has changed from one car per household to one car per person.