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Labour MSP fears Caithness air links will suffer long-term damage


By Alan Hendry


David Stewart has been told that the business case for Wick John O'Groats Airport submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce will be given careful consideration by the Scottish Government.
David Stewart has been told that the business case for Wick John O'Groats Airport submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce will be given careful consideration by the Scottish Government.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart says he is concerned that Caithness air links will suffer long-term damage as the coronavirus crisis takes its toll.

Mr Stewart wrote to Scotland's transport secretary, Michael Matheson, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after Loganair announced the axing of its Edinburgh-Wick service.

The MSP had previously asked the Scottish Government for swift action following the collapse of Flybe when the Wick/Aberdeen route was taken over by Eastern Airways, which previously ran it under a franchise for Flybe.

Mr Stewart argued that the Wick/Aberdeen service was fragile due to falling passenger numbers.

“I understand that the Scottish Government has to concentrate on the coronavirus crisis and people should be staying at home, so any movement is restricted and I totally back that,” Mr Stewart said.

“But the writing was on the wall for these routes last year when I asked the Scottish Government to consider backing a public service obligation [PSO] on both, a move which would have been welcomed by local groups and individuals.

“If a PSO had been progressed, there could have been protection given so the links were in place when the country recovers. The airlines could have been there for the transport of key workers or other resources during this crisis.

“The axing of one service and the suspension of the other is truly worrying in the longer term and I will continue to press for ring-fencing both the Wick/Aberdeen and Edinburgh routes when the coronavirus crisis is over.”

Mr Matheson said he understood the issue faced by Caithness due to the loss of the Wick/Edinburgh service and more generally.

He added: “We are considering carefully the business case submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce and will respond in due course.

“I am sure that you will appreciate, however, the wider issues that the Government is collectively dealing with during the Covid-19 crisis. While we respond to the business case as soon as we can it will not be immediate.”

A PSO, under EU transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for the economic development of the region they serve.



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