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Leader seeks European support for Highlands and Islands air travellers

3rd October 2013

Getting a better deal on air travel for rural regions, such as the Highlands and Islands, was top of the agenda for The Highland Council Leader Drew Hendry when he addressed delegates at the General Assembly of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions in St Malo, Brittany, France.

Councillor Hendry won the support of delegates for further research to be carried out by CPMR for present to the European Commission.

He argued that better transport communications in rural areas are crucial to sustain local economies, including security of links from rural airports, such as Inverness, to hub airport destinations, such as Gatwick or Heathrow, London.

He has robustly challenged the suggestion, through the Highlands and Islands European Partnership (HIEP) that EU Regional Aid should be phased out over the next 10 years through the European Unions consultation on State Aids to Airports and Airlines. This would pose even greater challenges for the regions airports.

Councillor Hendry said: The E.U. wishes to see an end to the eligibility of airports and airlines to financial assistance or regional aid from government and argues that there is duplication in air transport provision and that this is anti- competitive. Under the EU proposals regional aid will be phased out over the next ten years.

HIEP argues that special dispensation should be given to peripheral airports such as in the Highlands and Islands where there is no high speed land-based alternative to air transport. Here the airports such as Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Sumburgh are owned by the public sector and require ongoing support to continue to provide regional travel to small and scattered populations and to meet the demands of modern air travel.

Inglis Lyon, Managing Director for Highlands and Islands Airports, confirmed that the one-size-fits-all proposals are totally disproportionate for a remote region served by routes which have traditionally been marginal. Responding to the consultation, he confirmed that he had outlined his concerns and sought a meeting with the Commission to amplify his argument directly.


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