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Transport / Socio-economic benefits of keeping Tingwall Airport open ‘overwhelming’

The aerial approach to Tingwall Airport from the south. Photo: Peter ScottTingwall airport. Photo: SIC

COUNCILLORS are being recommended to keep inter-island air services at Tingwall Airport instead of moving them to Sumburgh when the matter is discussed next week.

A report on the future of inter-island air services due to be presented to the full Shetland Islands Council (SIC) on Wednesday says “the socio-economic case overwhelmingly favours” Tingwall as the base for services despite Sumburgh being a slightly cheaper option in the long run.

If councillors agree that the SIC-owned Tingwall remains as the inter-island flight hub, the council could undertake a business case into required capital investment in areas like runway and terminal upgrades which is estimated at around £1.8 million.

The airport was included in a review of the council’s transport as the local authority explores where it can reign in its spending amid a warning that it needs to find savings of more than £15 million over the next five years.

An outline business case into air services by Peter Brett Associates also recommends that flights to Papa Stour and Skerries are withdrawn and compensating ferry arrangements made in their place, although planes have not been travelling to Skerries for some time.

That means that there could only be flights to and from Fair Isle and Foula from when the next inter-island air services contract comes into force from 1 April 2020.

It is understood that has been mixed feelings within Shetland’s band of councillors as to whether Tingwall Airport should be closed.

But consultants Peter Brett Associates say that Tingwall would offer more for islanders despite costing slightly more to run over time than if services were based at the HIAL-owned Sumburgh.

Airtask currently operates flights to Fair Isle, Papa Stour and Foula from Tingwall for the council.

A report from transport planning manager Michael Craigie said that “whilst the financial benefits of moving to Sumburgh are apparent but marginal (and perhaps more significant in the longer term), the socio-economic case overwhelmingly favours Tingwall insofar as it provides the most effective means of maximising connectivity and reliability”.

The communities of Fair Isle and Foula are keen to see Tingwall remain open, with concerns that using Sumburgh would lead to reduced reliability and longer travelling times.

“In summary, there is no convenient ‘clean cut’ position on the mainland base for inter-island air services but on the balance of financial matters and the socioeconomic matters that are important to the island communities, the balance falls in favour of retaining Tingwall Airport as the base for inter-island air services,” Craigie concluded.

The outline business case also recommends exploring enhancements to the Fair Isle and Foula services to reflect current and future demand.