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Scottish Government urged to invest further to restore air services to Skye

27th May 2019

The Scottish Government is being urged to step up its support for the restoration of scheduled air services operating from Ashaig Airport, Broadford, Skye by providing additional funding and asking Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd to take over the lead role in delivering the project.

The call comes from the Skye Airport Working Group, which comprises representatives of The Highland Council, who own the airport, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and HITRANS, the regional transport partnership for the Highlands and Islands.

Extensive research has already been carried out by the Working Group which confirms that, with suitable investment, the existing airstrip and facilities can be upgraded to accommodate a 19-seater aircraft - such as a Twin Otter - to operate between Skye and Glasgow/Edinburgh with minimal environmental impact and no runway extension.

Last year, the Working Group commissioned further work which undertook an analysis of best value options to obtain the necessary licences and upgrading airport facilities on Skye so that they were suitable for re-introducing a scheduled air service on an initial trial basis. Usage could then be monitored for the duration of the trial and the case for establishing the service on a more permanent basis evaluated.

On the 16th May The Highland Council's Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee agreed to contribute a further £170,000 towards the cost of further engagement with statutory bodies and preparation work but recognised that help from the Scottish Government is vital to ensure the project takes off.

The Chair of this Committee and also Chair of HITRANS, Councillor Allan Henderson, has now written to the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, to press home the case.

Councillor Henderson wrote: "It is acknowledged that additional funding will still be required if an air service linking Skye to the Central Belt is to be restored. All other internal PSO air services which operate between two different local authorities such as Glasgow to Campbeltown, Tiree or Barra are supported by the Scottish Government and it is unlikely that Skye will be able to benefit from the vastly improved connectivity which air services would provide without Scottish Government support. We therefore ask that you consider how the local partners may be assisted technically and financially in implementing the development plan identified in the Skye Airport Business Case and subsequent work.

"The Highland Council currently owns and operates the Airport at Ashaig and is keen to work with partners to progress the project. However, the local Working Group members feel that the next stage of the project should be managed and implemented by HIAL, who, subject to having suitable resource, can provide the necessary technical expertise to implement the development plan to a point where the statutory licences and investment in the infrastructure will be put in place.

“Ashaig Airport is already used by Skye Flying Club, the Marine Coastguard Agency and other visiting general aircraft. If successful in reintroducing scheduled flights to the airport, the Working Group anticipate that there will only be a maximum of 3 rotations per day with a Twin Otter size aircraft which already serves similar locations such as Barra and Tiree."

Councillor Henderson gave an assurance that all necessary public consultation in progressing the proposals will be undertaken in complying fully with the planning process.

Councillor John Gordon, Chair of The Highland Council’s Skye and Raasay Committee, said: “Good transport links, including regional air connectivity, are vital to the economic success of communities in the Highlands and Islands. Skye is one of the areas in Scotland that is furthest away from a scheduled air service. Our local committee backs the proposals for a trial for a wide number of reasons including access to specialist health services, meeting the needs of businesses and investing in the local economy. Due to the airstrip’s location, it won’t only bring benefits to the Isle of Skye but Lochalsh and the wider west coast of the Highlands will also benefit."