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Business / Space centre team keen to bring Scatsta Airport ‘back to life’

Scatsta Airport. Photo: Shetland News
Scatsta Airport closed to flights last year. Photo: Shetland News

THE TEAM behind plans for a space centre in Unst have expressed an interest in using Scatsta Airport in a bid to “bring it back to life”.

The airport is due to close at the end of the week as its oil and gas flights move to Sumburgh Airport.

Shetland Space Centre (SSC), however, has pinpointed the facility as a possible ‘technology and space hub’, which could potentially operate while the runway is kept active.

Chief executive Frank Strang believes it could also still be used to support the oil and gas industry in addition to the space sector.

Strang has spoken publicly about the space centre’s desire to use Scatsta because the “witching hour is almost upon us”.

“We need to move now in order to try and get things done,” he told Shetland News.

Frank Strang.
Frank Strang.

“There is a real danger that the airfield will be stripped and dismantled when it closes at the end of the month. It would be a major disaster for Shetland and the North Mainland if that were to happen.”

Shetland Space Centre wrote to landowner Shetland Islands Council (SIC) “several months ago” to express its interest in the site.

“We believe it would be possible to create a model that would be sustainable and support both the space sector and the oil and gas industry,” Strang said.

“The ideal solution would be for the SIC, as owner of Scatsta, to allow SSC to manage it and develop it out.

“It will take a couple of years in my opinion but there are some space-related activities that could happen by the autumn such as engine testing and R and D [research and development] as well as trying to attract some commercial business back to the site.”

The company aims to create a satellite launching facility at Lamba Ness in Unst, but it does not yet have planning permission.

A consultation event was recently held before a full planning application is submitted.

Strang said that there is an “obvious synergy” between Unst and Scatsta in the North Mainland.

Shetland Space Centre believes that Scatsta could be an “integral part of the emerging space industry on Shetland and having access to the runway would allow clients to fly in much closer to the launch site than landing at Sumburgh”.

“Some of the SSC clients would envisage light manufacturing and testing at Scatsta and the existing hangarage would be perfect and fit for purpose,” Strang added.

He said, though, that it is “absolutely essential” that a lot of the equipment at Scatsta is left on site once oil and gas flights stop.

This would keep costs down and ensure an “almost seamless transition”.

“It is important to realise that we are talking about people’s livelihoods and lives so we would make no promises as to jobs and numbers created but I genuinely believe if we keep up the momentum…with SSC that there is a real opportunity to keep Scatsta alive and rebuild the workforce albeit in a different form,” Strang added.

“This will in no way diminish our intention to reinstate Ordale Airport at Baltasound which is seen very much as integral to the success of the launch site at Lamba Ness. However the clock is ticking down, quickly, and whatever is going to be done to retrieve the situation needs to happen very soon.

“There are not too many good news stories out there at the moment but space certainly is one, and if some of that enthusiasm and support can be used to inject life back into one of Shetland’s key assets then it is worth giving it a go I feel.”

Speaking earlier this week SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison said the council will continue to be “open to discussions with anybody who is interesting in airport”, but she declined to comment on matters relating to an individual business.

Shetland Space Centre, meanwhile, already has a memorandum of understanding signed with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, among interest from other companies.

At the weekend Edinburgh-based space developer Skyrora undertook a test rocket launch in Fethaland in the north mainland of Shetland.

It was the first time a suborbital rocket was launched from Shetland soil.

Launching satellites commercially from the proposed spaceport in Unst is a potential option for Skyrora.