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Funding pledge on Wick flights 'excellent news for Caithness', says Maree Todd

By Alan Hendry

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Wick John O'Groats Airport has seen a 25 per cent rise in passenger numbers.
Wick John O'Groats Airport has seen a 25 per cent rise in passenger numbers.

Continued funding from the Scottish Government for flights from Wick John O'Groats Airport has been hailed by Maree Todd as "excellent news for Caithness".

She said it would sustain local employment and help stem the tide of depopulation in the far north.

Ms Todd, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, was speaking after the government agency Transport Scotland announced that its support for the Wick/Aberdeen public service obligation (PSO) will remain in place in 2024/25.

“I am delighted that the Scottish Government has renewed funding for the PSO for the Wick/Aberdeen service, recognising the economic and social value for our far north communities," Ms Todd said.

“Continued support for the service ensures airport stability, sustains local employment and gives local businesses the confidence to maintain and expand their operations.

"It also provides encouragement for other businesses that may be considering establishing themselves in the area.

“In my communication with the cabinet secretary for transport [Fiona Hyslop] on the PSO, I was keen to emphasise the need for good connectivity in the far north, especially in our efforts to tackle depopulation.

"I’m glad to see this recognised through this funding decision, which reflects the SNP government’s commitment to addressing the unique challenges facing our rural communities.

“This is excellent news for Caithness. I’m confident that with this support from the Scottish Government, passenger numbers will continue to grow.”

Maree Todd says the funding decision shows the SNP government’s commitment to 'addressing the unique challenges facing our rural communities'. Picture: Callum Mackay
Maree Todd says the funding decision shows the SNP government’s commitment to 'addressing the unique challenges facing our rural communities'. Picture: Callum Mackay

Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner, who represents Wick and East Caithness and is chairman of the airport consultative committee, said: “I am absolutely delighted with the letter from Transport Scotland informing us that the Scottish Government has committed to its continued funding of the PSO at Wick airport.

“I know that this will have been a huge decision for them to make, and not an easy one, in light of all the financial challenges they face, but it is testament to the hard work by everyone involved in achieving this outcome."

A 25 per cent rise in passenger numbers at Wick helped ensure continuation of the subsidy. Transport Scotland nevertheless made it clear that it wants to see additional growth on the route.

A formal working group is to be established bringing together Transport Scotland, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) and local stakeholders.

The PSO was secured after campaigning led by Caithness Chamber of Commerce. The route was reinstated in April 2022 and is operated by Eastern Airways.

As of January 2024, in its second year of operation, the service had carried 9252 passengers compared with 8835 in the first year and was showing an average growth year-to-date of 25 per cent. By the end of next month it is expected that the service will have taken more than 11,000 passengers, according to Highland Council.

The local authority says Wick/Aberdeen service "has consistently exceeded pre-Covid passenger numbers for the route".

Speaking earlier this week, ahead of Wednesday's announcement by Transport Scotland, Councillor Bremner said: “Wick has continued to see increased passenger numbers and, in this current year, is the top-performing airport in respect of increased passenger numbers year-on-year in the HIAL portfolio of airports.

"In October and December of last year, passenger numbers had increased by 25 per cent and 22 per cent year-to-date respectively."

The PSO is provided on the basis of £1.3 million annually, with £1m committed by the Scottish Government and £300,000 by the council.

The Scottish Government's support for the PSO was committed by the then transport secretary Michael Matheson in February 2021, with funding starting in 2022/23 to coincide with the launch of flights from Wick – running for two years initially, with a further two years (up to 2025/26) subject to passenger growth in the first two years.

At a meeting of the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council earlier this month, Councillor Bremner said the encouraging increase in passengers using Wick John O’Groats Airport was proof that local people were "very much investing" in the Aberdeen route.

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