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Oil worker's anger at Wick flights reduction

By David G Scott

A Caithness man who depends on flights between Wick and Aberdeen has accused an airline of going back on its word by continuing with a reduced timetable.

Offshore worker Andrew Gunn, from Lybster, had criticised Eastern Airways – which runs the Aberdeen service with partner Flybe – for cutting its timetable to just one flight a day on the route when it was initially announced last November.

"This was supposedly a change for the winter period only and being reinstated in March 2020," Mr Gunn said.

Oil worker Andrew Gunn is unhappy with Eastern Airways for 'going back on its word'.
Oil worker Andrew Gunn is unhappy with Eastern Airways for 'going back on its word'.

"I have since had several evening bookings from March onwards cancelled – reverting me to the lunchtime-only flight.

"This appears to be going back on Eastern Airways' word that this is only a winter change.

"Again this is another devastating blow for our fragile community and fragile airport."

In November, Eastern Airways announced it was reducing its schedule of two flights a day from Wick to just one as part of a "temporary winter timetable".

In a letter to Mr Gunn, dated November 4, a representative of the company said: "We will be making a temporary winter schedule change to the Aberdeen/Wick John O'Groats scheduled air service, offering a single daily weekday operation to maximise connections.

"This change is effective from November 11 into March [2020]."

Flights from Wick John O'Groats Airport to Aberdeen are staying at one a day.
Flights from Wick John O'Groats Airport to Aberdeen are staying at one a day.

The letter admitted that the service was running at a loss and stated that "we are no longer, as a commercial business, willing to underwrite such losses during the winter months.

"Despite considerable dialogue between all air service key stakeholders, including the Scottish Government, there is no willingness to offer the Caithness airport and its routes comparable status to similar remote airports elsewhere in Scotland other than the Air Discount Scheme (ADS).

"We will continue with stakeholders to explore all ways of aiding a better air service for the region that is financially viable and sustainable for the longer term."

The Eastern Airways representative then urged Mr Gunn to contact his MSP "to help strengthen the arguments for better Caithness connectivity aimed at improving prosperity for the region".

When contacted by the paper today, the company reiterated the statement it had given to Mr Gunn in November and had nothing else to add, despite being pressed on the matter.

Mr Gunn said he finds it disappointing that despite the dialogue with stakeholders and the Scottish Government there was no willingness to "offer the public service obligations that other airport routes have".

In an open email to MSP Gail Ross, MP Jamie Stone, Caithness Chamber of Commerce and others, he stated: "I am hoping that we as a community, and with you as our elected representatives, can look at ways to make additional flights and patronage from Wick more appealing."

Mrs Ross said she had been in discussions with Eastern Airways for months and had done her best "to persuade them that this will have massive negative consequences for the area".

Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are, of course, disappointed that Eastern has decided to keep the Wick/Aberdeen route to a single flight per day despite previous indications that this would only be for the winter months. We do understand the challenges facing both Eastern and the wider regional aviation market.

"The recent near-collapse of Flybe has shown the scale of these challenges. Operator decisions such as this show the urgent need for both UK and Scottish Government to look at how they can support regional aviation."

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