Fragility of Caithness air services 'a major issue', says Gail Ross
THE fragility of air services in Caithness is "a major issue", according to north MSP Gail Ross who has vowed to press the UK and Scottish governments for investment for routes to and from Wick.
The SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross made her pledge after a financial package was agreed to save the regional airline Flybe, which has a franchise agreement with Eastern Airways – the operator of flights between Wick and Aberdeen.
"While I am very relieved to hear that Flybe will continue to operate, the fragility of the air network here in the north is still a major issue for all of us in Caithness and north Sutherland. We’ve seen this week how easily things can fall apart which could have a catastrophic effect on the connectivity of our area," Mrs Ross said today.
"I will continue to push the UK and Scottish governments for investment and support for air routes to and from Wick. We need and must have a route which is fully functioning, reliable and fit for the 21st century."
She added: "Frustrations continue over the service that is currently provided by Eastern Airways on this route, with cancellations and a poor service being experienced by many. I will continue to hold Eastern Airways to account and push them to show their customers and clients the respect they deserve."
Trudy Morris, chief executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: "The collapse of Flybe would be a real blow for regional aviation and would likely have a negative impact on flights from Wick John O’Groats Airport. We understand that the UK Government is considering removing Air Passenger Duty [APD] on domestic flights as a means of support and would urge Scottish Government to use its devolved powers to do likewise. APD has been a burden on regional aviation for too long and it would be welcome to see this outdated tax abolished."
She added: "We are continuing its work with local partners to look at the future of air services from Wick and we will be monitoring the situation closely."
Flybe, which was in financial trouble and facing a turbulent future, received support from the UK Government – understood to involve the deferral of Air Passenger Duty of around £100 million – and an injection of around £20 million from the company's owners, Virgin Atlantic, Cyrus Capital and Stobart Air.
Flybe chief executive Mark Anderson said: "We are delighted with the support received from the Government and the positive outcome for our people, our customers and the UK. Flybe remains committed to providing exceptional air connectivity for the UK regions with the full support of its shareholders.
"This is a positive outcome for the UK and will allow us to focus on delivering for our customers and planning for the future."
Meanwhile, an Eastern Airways flight from Aberdeen to Wick was cancelled on Tuesday afternoon but this had nothing to do with the problems with Flybe.
An Eastern Airways spokesperson said: "The Aberdeen to Wick John O’Groats service was cancelled in advance due to the anticipated weather forecasts and planned aircraft availability. All customers were contacted and offered a rebooking or full refund."