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Scottish Government 'recognises issues faced by Caithness' over loss of flights

By Gordon Calder

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There is growing pressure for a public service obligation to be granted for flights to and from Wick John O'Groats Airport.
There is growing pressure for a public service obligation to be granted for flights to and from Wick John O'Groats Airport.

AN assurance has been given that the Scottish Government recognises the difficulties facing Caithness following the loss of its air services to Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

The comment was made by a spokesman for the government agency Transport Scotland, who added that careful consideration was being given to a business case for Wick John O'Groats Airport compiled by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.

It came amid growing pressure for a public service obligation – a kind of subsidy – to be granted for flights to and from Wick.

Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart has accused the government of "dithering" over the future of the airport, while Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson says the situation is "deeply concerning" and has written to Scotland's transport secretary Michael Matheson.

She wants to meet him to discuss how a PSO can be moved forward "as quickly as possible" and other measures that could be put in place to support the airport.

The Transport Scotland spokesman said: "Mr Matheson has received Councillor Davidson’s letter and will respond as soon as possible.

"We recognise the issues faced by the Caithness area in relation to the loss of the Wick to Aberdeen and Edinburgh air services, as well as more generally.

"We are carefully considering the business case submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce and will respond as soon as we can."

Councillor Davidson wrote to the transport secretary after Eastern Airways pulled out of its Wick to Aberdeen service, leaving the area with no scheduled flights. Loganair withdrew from the Wick to Edinburgh route in March.

She said: "This is a deeply disappointing decision and one which further demonstrates the need for an ambitious new approach to protecting our vital regional aviation links."

The chairman of the Caithness Committee, Councillor Matthew Reiss, said: "If Dundee has a PSO, we need one to secure the future of Wick airport too. When the transport minister met with the local chamber of commerce last August the risks to Wick were unambiguously spelled out to him.

"The chamber has done a power of work outlining a possible solution and my fellow councillors and I will continue to raise the future of the airport as a priority with our MSP and the minister."

Caithness civic leader Willie Mackay said: "Having regular and reliable air links is going to be crucial when it comes to driving forward our economy and I believe it will put us in a better position to recover from the impact of Covid-19.

"There is no doubt a very strong case has been put forward for our airport to receive the necessary subsidies to help safeguard its future."

Mr Stewart, a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said the loss of the air services at Wick has left Caithness in a "dire situation" and has called on the transport secretary to provide a PSO for the airport.

He said: "I doubt whether any other areas of the UK have been left without such vital air links."

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