Transport / Funding boost for Highlands and Islands low carbon aviation project

A UAV taking off at Kirkwall Airport before heading to North Ronaldsay with residents' mail. Photo: Colin Keldie/SATE

PLANS to develop the Highlands and Islands as a “sustainable aviation region” have received a government funding boost worth nearly £9 million.

The Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project is led by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) and is based in Orkney.

But the £8.9 million funding from UK Research and Innovation will see the project progress to its second phase, which could see other Highlands and Islands communities becoming involved.

Phase two should include looking at new technology on scheduled airline routes, offshore services and island/remote region deliveries.

There will also be a first hydrogen-propelled regional aircraft flight and a “drone demonstration flight” from Scotland to Norway.

However, it comes after local transport partnership ZetTrans warned that the price of aviation going green should not be passed onto the customer – as the cost of travel to and from Shetland is “already the highest in Scotland”.

It said in response to a consultation on the Scottish Government’s aviation strategy that it was vital to support the “development of airport infrastructure necessary to transition to net zero technologies”.


Warning made against increasing fares to cover cost of aviation’s transition to net zero

The first phase of the SATE project saw the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test centre embedded at Kirkwall Airport.

Work undertaken in the project so far has included the collaboration with a drone company to trial automated Royal Mail flights to islands, such as Unst.

This pilot has led to the Royal Mail committing to use the technology, with Shetland set to be one of the areas to benefit first.

There are currently 12 partners involved in SATE’s phase two, including Loganair, Orkney Islands Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

ZetTrans said in its consultation response that it and Shetland Islands Council have informally been involved in the SATE project, and aims to become a formal, non-funding partner this financial year.

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HIAL chair Lorna Jack said: “Phase 2 of the SATE project will allow all the partners to really drive forward a range of low-carbon services and technologies that will have a tangible benefit to communities in the Highlands and Islands and beyond.

“Our partners are genuinely innovative pioneers committed to adapting to rapidly changing environmental challenges.

“SATE also plays a key role in delivering HIAL’s environmental objective to decarbonise our operations and our long-term vision to become a net-zero carbon regional airport group.

“We continue with our aim for all 11 of our airports to be carbon neutral as we strive to deliver an environmentally sustainable future for aviation services.”

Six jobs have been created by HIAL to manage the project so far, and it is estimated that within SATE at least 45 highly skilled jobs will be created.

Thirty of these will be within Windracers, the company which undertook the drone trials with the Royal Mail.

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