North airports to remain open for lifeline and essential services
ALL airports operated by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) are to be closed to scheduled flights from Sunday, although plans are being drawn up to allow the continuation of "lifeline and essential services".
These include NHS passenger transfers, Royal Mail and oil and gas industry flights.
In a statement today, HIAL said: "Following the strict measures announced by the Prime Minister and the First Minister on March 23, HIAL has been liaising closely with Scottish Government and aviation partners to ensure its airports can continue their unique role in providing lifeline services for our communities, now and into the future.
"It is important HIAL does all it can to limit the spread of infection, protect the health and wellbeing of its staff and have the necessary resilience in place to maintain its ability to service essential and emergency flights.
"In order to maintain these vital air links, HIAL has made the difficult, but necessary, decision to close all its airports to scheduled flights and routine general aviation traffic with effect from Sunday, March 29.
"Our communities, in particular those on the islands, rely on our airports for vital services and we are currently working with Transport Scotland and Loganair to agree a skeleton schedule that will ensure our airports continue to provide lifeline and essential services, including NHS passenger transfer, the Royal Mail and the oil and gas industry.
"Our airport managers will implement contingency arrangements to ensure our airports continue to operate as required.
"The contingency measures we have in place will ensure we maintain resilience to enable us to continue to safely service essential flights with the minimum staffing levels required."
HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said: “Our airports are unique in that their core role is to provide lifeline services for our communities in the Highlands and Islands. They are essential to the continued delivery of medical and other critical supplies and the transport of key workers, and they also enable emergency flights for island communities.
“Now more than ever there is a need to safeguard those vital services.
“I appreciate this crisis is unknown territory for all of us and at this time we do not know how long these essential measures will remain in place.
“We could not maintain these services for our communities without the extraordinary team spirit and commitment displayed by our staff right across the HIAL group and I am indebted to them for their continued flexibility and dedication during a very difficult time for us all.”
Michael Matheson, Scotland's transport, infrastructure and connectivity secretary, said: “Our aviation sector is facing an unprecedented challenge in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, so the Scottish Government is working with industry partners to ensure our lifeline air links continue to operate for the remote communities that depend on them.
“These air routes are crucial for the transport of supplies and key workers, as well as providing a vital link when emergency transport to the mainland is required.
“I also wish to thank all the HIAL staff for their efforts during this difficult time.”
Information on the skeleton schedule will be posted on the HIAL website and social media channels.
North MP Jamie Stone described it as a responsible action to take.
"I support HIAL's decision," he said. "It underlines how serious the situation is, and the fact that Highlands and Islands airports will still be available for serious medical cases is very good.
"I shall be seeking assurance that these emergency flights will cover maternity services in the far north."