I have been following the debate around Loganair reliability problems and fare costs with interest given this is an issue many of my constituents have raised with me in the last five years.
Obviously, external air travel is not something the council has much (if any) say in, but it does have a huge effect on our population as well as the business and ambitions of the council. That being said, the following are my personal views and not necessarily a position of the SIC.
To the credit of Loganair chief Jonathan Hinkles, when approached he has always been honest and open regarding the difficulties his airline faces as well as areas where performance has been unacceptable. Performance and reliability issues are for Loganair to resolve, and I hope they do so.
Regarding fares however, when council officer Michael Craigie stated publicly that the only realistic way of addressing the spiralling cost of fares was for the Scottish Government to provide greater subsidy this was absolutely spot on. That the Air Discount Scheme exists in the first place is testament to the fact that these lifeline routes are not economical without government subsidy.
If the fares rise to the point where the arbitrarily capped 50 per cent subsidy (note 50 per cent from fare, not including extra charges/taxes etc) is not enough to make flying affordable for huge swathes of our community then the scheme is failing in its stated aim of improving social inclusion in peripheral areas.
I was disappointed but not surprised when the issue was raised nationally to see the SNP (somehow) blaming the “limits of devolution” and the Green MSP incredibly stating she would be concerned if an increased subsidy led to an increase in flights. We should be using the greenest travel possible apparently (see below).
Firstly, this scheme was introduced in 2006 and (in my opinion) is one of the best things Holyrood has ever done for Shetland and other remote communities. As far as I am aware, it has nothing to do with Westminster. To raise or lower the 50 per cent fare cap should be entirely in the gift of Holyrood. While SNP administrations deserve credit for extending the scheme repeatedly, they have in fact cut it in the past when they removed business travel from the scheme, thereby disadvantaging rural businesses. At the time this was blamed on EU state aid rules, but it later transpired to be purely cost cutting.
As for Green MSP Ariane Burgess making the utterly out of touch point about environmentally friendly travel, perhaps she should have checked the CO2 figures prior to making such a statement. Studies have shown that a Sumburgh flight emits on average 3.2 to 4.8 times LESS carbon per passenger than the equivalent Northlink ferry journey. It really did not take me long to check those numbers.
Given the poor responses I will not be holding my breath for an increase in subsidy. It is deplorable however that given the cost of living crisis and rising cost of fuel etc many Shetlanders face a future of simply being priced out of ever leaving these islands except for in the most dire of circumstances.
As much as I love living in Shetland, it pains me to think of so many who will miss out on being able to even travel within their own country, let alone any further afield, simply due to these excessive costs. Indeed, it will certainly be a factor encouraging people to leave or dissuading people from moving here.
As is so often a source of frustration for Shetlanders, politicians and public alike, I am left with the feeling that very few decision makers south of Fair Isle understand the meaning or importance of a lifeline service, let alone what it is like to rely on them daily.
Councillor for the North Isles