Passengers' anger over loss of Wick flights
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Claims of a lack of transparency by Eastern Airways over its withdrawal of passenger flights from Wick John O'Groats Airport have been levelled by disgruntled users of the service.
On Monday, PhD student Tomi Baikie received an email response from the customer support team at Eastern Airways following his query about Wick/Aberdeen flights being reinstated after a period of suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The email stated: "After careful consideration of the circumstances we have taken the decision to withdraw from the route.
"We hope that you may appreciate that such decisions are not taken lightly but unfortunately the route has not shown signs of passenger growth that is required to make the route financially sustainable."
However, after numerous requests for an official comment from Eastern Airways, we received a short email stating: "While there remains conversations with HIAL [Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd] and the Scottish Government there is no statement, albeit currently also no date for on-sale."
The discrepancy between the two messages was flagged up to the media team but at the time of going to press no further response was forthcoming from Eastern Airways.
Mr Baikie, who studies at the University of Cambridge and often travels to Wick for business matters and to visit his parents, said: "The quality of the service in Wick was great.
"It meant it was possible to invite people to Wick for business and events such as the science festival. The loss of these quick connections will make it harder to attract people to Wick as the public transport options from Inverness Airport are extremely poor and unviable with luggage."
Mr Baikie thinks it is "wrong to suggest that the loss of these services is entirely due to coronavirus" as Loganair had cancelled its flights between Wick and Edinburgh before the pandemic.
"Instead, I think it speaks to underinvestment in public infrastructure in the remote communities of the Highlands," he said.
"I believe the chief complaint was reliability, which was due to the lack of instrument landing systems and the lack of refurbishment on the crosswind runway. Kirkwall, for instance, with similar weather to us, has better reliability and more flight options throughout the week."
Mr Baikie believes there is no reason Wick shouldn’t have quick connections to the central belt.
"I hope the government does not stand by and see this resource lost to Caithness. On public transport, looking at the time, rather than distance to Edinburgh, Wick is becoming one of the most remote places in Scotland.
"It is another loss for our community, and I sympathise for those with jobs at the airport.
"I hope it does not become derelict. The loss of air services is not a positive step for economic renewal in our community.”
Oil worker Andrew Gunn, from Lybster, has been another regular customer on the Wick to Aberdeen route for work commitments and was told about the email Tomi Baikie received.
Mr Gunn said: "I was disappointed but not surprised to hear that Eastern Airways have suspended their flight between Wick and Aberdeen. Eastern have been running down this service to the point where the one remaining flight was at an inconvenient time.
"This announcement that Eastern have suspended the route indefinitely now leaves no scheduled flights from Wick, causing great inconvenience to me and fellow travellers. More importantly, our airport employs a number of highly skilled people and supports local jobs."
Mr Gunn subsequently checked Eastern Airways' website and found that Wick had been removed from the list of destinations
"I am upset more has not been done by our local lobbying groups to get government backing for our airport," he said. "I completely understand that the Scottish Government may have more challenges on its plate at the moment, but the rundown of flights had been under way a long time before coronavirus."