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Fears for economy amid decision to reduce opening hours at Wick John O’Groats Airport

By Gordon Calder

SCOTLAND’s transport minister, Michael Matheson, is to be invited to a meeting with Caithness councillors, the local chamber of commerce and airline representatives to try and find a way forward for Wick John O’Groats Airport.

The move – agreed unanimously at a Caithness ward meeting on Monday – comes after Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) decided to reduce the opening hours at the airport from April 1.

There is concern that could impact on the economy, especially as the airport could be affected by the decision to centralise air traffic control to Inverness. It is also facing possible strike action by the Prospect union over a pay claim.

Nicola Sinclair, a Wick and east Caithness Highland councillor, is concerned the reduced opening hours could result in some flights being cancelled, a 10 per cent reduction in business for Far North Aviation and even affect the maintenance operation at the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd project.

The matter was discussed at a full council meeting in Inverness last Thursday and again by local councillors at their ward meeting in Wick this week.

Wick John O'Groats airport
Wick John O'Groats airport

Mrs Sinclair said: “I’m very concerned by recent events at the airport. The current operating model is not sustainable – it doesn’t work for the airlines or the community.”

Her Wick council colleague Andrew Sinclair said: “It’s particularly disappointing that the airport’s opening hours have been reduced without any real consultation with all the key stakeholders.

“This is a decision which will not only impact the staff and airlines operating through Wick Airport but also the likes of the helicopters servicing the Beatrice wind farm.”

Trudy Morris, the chief executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce and chairwoman of the Caithness Transport Forum, says she is “extremely concerned” about the planned reduction in opening hours at Wick John O’Groats Airport.

“We are concerned about the impact this will have on staff morale at the airport. We will be discussing this matter with relevant partners at the Airport Consultative Committee and with our local MSP, and will strive to find solutions to address the challenges and develop the opportunities at the airport.”

A HIAL spokesman said the planned change to opening hours is not a cost saving exercise.

He said: “As a result of adjustments to scheduled services by airline operators at Wick Airport there will be a change to the operating hours to meet these requirements.

“This in turn will result in a new staff roster.”

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