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Caithness air services causing 'serious concern' to trades council

By Gordon Calder

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THE standard of air services to and from Caithness is causing "serious concern" to local trade union members.

They are unhappy about the frequency and reliability of flights, the reduced opening hours at Wick John O'Groats Airport and the change in ownership of Eastern Airways, which operates flights between the far north and Aberdeen.

Thurso and Wick Trades Union Council is concerned the situation could impact on attempts to attract inward investment at a time when Dounreay is being decommissioned.

Concern has been expressed by trades council members about Wick airport.
Concern has been expressed by trades council members about Wick airport.

Chairman David Alexander said that what is happening at the airport could have "a detrimental impact" on the local economy and the bid to get firms to come to the far north.

"It is causing serious concern," he said. "Opening hours at the airport have been cut.

"It is difficult to get a flight before midday and Eastern Airways has changed ownership. It is quite worrying.

"We would be better off if we were an island. You look at what goes from Wick and then look at what goes from Kirkwall and Sumburgh.

"The Western Isles have better connections and flights than we do. I don't think Hial [Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, which runs airports in the Highlands and Islands on behalf of the Scottish Government] is bothered.

"They only seem concerned with the airports which are making big bucks. Inverness is growing all the time."

Secretary John Deighan agreed and said: "It is essential we have a good air network here."

Unite representative Colin Baxter is also concerned about what is happening. "They reduce the flights and put up the prices and then there is less use and they say there is no appetite to use the facility," he told the meeting in Thurso.

Mr Alexander claimed Hial is not very supportive and felt it is time "to get the Scottish Government on board".

Responding to the criticism, a spokesman for Hial said: "One of our key priorities is to deliver long-term, sustainable connectivity for the communities we serve via our airports.

"We look to support the social and economic prosperity of the Caithness area wherever possible and will continue in our drive to increase connectivity to meet both business and community requirements for the area.

"In recent years £9.4 million has been invested at Wick airport, with a further £2.3 million in airfield improvements planned over the next two years."

As previously reported, Eastern Airways was sold by Bristow Helicopters Ltd but the airline insisted the change in ownership would not affect the operation of its Wick John O'Groats to Aberdeen route.

Eastern was acquired by Richard Lake, former owner of the company, and will continue to provide scheduled services as a franchise partner of Flybe, specialist oil and gas contracts, corporate shuttles for blue-chip companies, and ad-hoc private charter services.

The company operates from airports throughout the UK and parts of Europe, including Wick John O'Groats, Aberdeen, Sumburgh, Newcastle, Norwich, Humberside, Cardiff, Paris Orly and Southampton.

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