Air connectivity is essential for vital services and to support the economy of the Highlands and Islands, regional transport leaders say in a call for sustained investment.
They maintain that there are great opportunities for the aviation industry to deliver improved low-carbon sustainable connectivity – with the right investment and governance.
They also reiterate their calls for mechanisms to be put in place to ensure that Inverness Airport has access to London Heathrow with a minimum frequency of two services a day.
The action plan was set out by key aviation stakeholders in the Highlands and Islands in a detailed response to Transport Scotland’s Aviation Strategy consultation.
Councilor Allan Henderson, Chairman of HITRANS, the Regional Transport Partnership for the Highlands and Islands, and Mr. Inglis Lyon, Managing Director of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL), sent the response which takes into account the views local councils.
In a cover letter, they say: “Air links are an essential, often vital, part of the transport network in the Highlands and Islands.
“All domestic air services depart or land at an airport in the Highlands and Islands.
“They provide these places with the only air connectivity that allows these areas to economically compete with other parts of Scotland.
“Services also often provide access to essential services such as health and education as well as the means by which many centrally located services are delivered to these remote islands and communities.”
They maintain that sustained investment is needed from the Scottish Government to deliver the ambitious transition to Net Zero and to fully realize the opportunities the transition can provide through improved connectivity and benefits for local supply chains.
They say particular investment is needed to support the development of these new technologies and the related infrastructure needed to support them.
The letter adds: “HITRANS and HIAL welcome a collaborative, goal-oriented review of all current support mechanisms, including public service obligations (PSOs) and the airline rebate program, but also all funding and infrastructure more wide.
“The starting point for this review should be to establish a minimum level of service to provide the connectivity needed to support sustainable local economies and a fairer and fairer Scotland.
“Surface transport to all UK airports is currently based on models that encourage the use of the private car – whether it’s a reliance on airport parking revenue or the promotion of flying and driving on public transport by airlines.
“Again, a complete overhaul of existing policy and regulation is required if we are to achieve Net Zero goals and adhere to the sustainable travel hierarchy under the National Transportation Strategy.”
Cllr Henderson and Mr Lyon also recall that stakeholders and businesses in the Highlands and Islands have repeatedly stressed the importance of ensuring guaranteed access to international airports on any new direct routes to Scotland.
“It is imperative that mechanisms are established to ensure that Inverness Airport has access to London Heathrow with a minimum frequency of two services per day, allowing passengers to make a viable round trip in each direction” , they said.
Read more: Importance of air links to the north