THE OPERATOR of Sumburgh Airport has confirmed that all of its airports in the Highlands and Islands will close to scheduled flights as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL), however, confirmed that the airports – particularly island ones like Sumburgh – would operate a “skeleton service” which would ensure lifeline and essential flights will continue.
It would include traffic relating to the NHS, Royal Mail and the oil and gas industry.
HIAL is in talks with Transport Scotland and airline Loganair to agree on a plan of action.
Loganair had already confirmed it would implement a reduced emergency timetable in April and May in response to a massive drop in sales, while HIAL had already cut opening hours at some of its airports.
HIAL’s move to close its 11 airports to scheduled traffic follows measures announced by the UK Government on Monday (23 March) restricting people’s movements.
It is also wanting to ensure that it has the staff resources to maintain essential flights.
“It is important HIAL does all it can to limit the spread of infection, protect the health and wellbeing of its staff and have the necessary resilience in place to maintain its ability to service essential and emergency flights,” a spokesperson said.
“In order to maintain these vital air links, HIAL has made the difficult, but necessary, decision to close all its airports to scheduled flights and routine general aviation traffic with effect from Sunday, 29 March, 2020.”
HIAL acknowledged that island communities rely on airports for vital services, and airport managers will be implementing contingency arrangements to ensure our airports continue to operate as required for lifeline and essential needs.
HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said: “Our airports are unique in that their core role is to provide lifeline services for our communities in the Highlands and Islands.
“They are essential to the continued delivery of medical and other critical supplies, the transport of key workers and also enable emergency flights for island communities.
“Now more than ever there is a need to safeguard those vital services. I appreciate this crisis is unknown territory for all of us and at this time we do not know how long these essential measures will remain in place.
“We could not maintain these services for our communities without the extraordinary team spirit and commitment displayed by our staff right across the HIAL group and I am indebted to them for their continued flexibility and dedication during a very difficult time for us all.”
Michael Matheson, Scottish cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, said: “Our aviation sector is facing an unprecedented challenge in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, so the Scottish Government is working with industry partners to ensure our lifeline air links continue to operate for the remote communities that depend on them.
“These air routes are crucial for the transport of supplies and key workers, as well as providing a vital link when emergency transport to the mainland is required. I also wish to thank all the HIAL staff for their efforts during this difficult time.”
Responding to the news, Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “It is important that all efforts are taken to restrict the spread of Covid-19.
“HIAL’s decision is the right one to protect their staff, as well as to reduce the risk of infection to those who will still be working to keep local airports operating or whose jobs mean they will still access the airports in support of essential services.
“The air links to the islands are lifeline routes for our communities and it’s important that they remain so for essential travel and supplies only.”
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