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We need answers on Flybe future, says MSP Gail Ross

By Gordon Calder

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The UK Government is said to be considering measures including short-term funding to save Flybe.
The UK Government is said to be considering measures including short-term funding to save Flybe.

NORTH MSP Gail Ross has called for an urgent meeting with Flybe bosses over concerns about the airline's future and the implications for services to and from Wick John O'Groats Airport.

The airline has a franchise with Eastern Airways, which operates flights between the Caithness airport and Aberdeen, but Flybe is reported to be in financial trouble. The UK Government is said to be considering measures including short-term funding to save Flybe from collapse.

Mrs Ross, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, wants an assurance from Flybe bosses about the future of the company and the "vital air links" to the north of Scotland.

She is concerned that if Flybe, which has operated since 1979, collapses it could impact on Eastern Airways and its services and staff.

"News of a potential collapse at Flybe is, of course, deeply concerning," Mrs Ross said. "If the airline goes under does that mean operations with other airlines will be affected? Will Eastern Airways carry on as normal?

"We really need to get answers to these questions, not just for the passengers but the staff who work there too. Until we get clarity on these issues it is difficult to move forward."

The SNP MSP has written to the Scottish Government's business minister, Jamie Hepburn, and Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial), which operates Wick John O'Groats, in a bid to identify a solution.

"We are trying to see what we can do," Mrs Ross said. "We need to get people round the table to sort this out. However, I’m optimistic that a solution can be found that protects our vital air links and protects local jobs.

"I have invited Jamie Hepburn and Michael Matheson [Scotland's transport secretary] to an urgent meeting with Flybe, Eastern Airways, Hial and trade union officials to identify the next steps in our joint effort to secure a long-term future for the air link."

Flybe, which is Europe’s biggest regional airline and employs around 2000 people, is understood to require emergency financing, although the company is not commenting on the situation. A spokeswoman would not be drawn on questions about Flybe's future and insisted today it was "business as usual in terms of flights". She said all flights were operating as normal.

Fraser Grieve, regional director of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said: "It is concerning for staff, but hopefully we will see a positive outcome that ensures these routes are maintained."

Inverness-based economist Tony Mackay said that if Flybe went out of business there would be some short-term problems but he was confident other airlines would take over the routes.

Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said the situation is worrying because Flybe is an important part of the region’s transport infrastructure. "Flybe is important not just for Inverness but the rest of the Highlands," he said.

Nadine Houghton, national officer for the GMB union, which represents a number of Flybe staff, said: "The last thing we need is an airline to go under – especially one that provides a vital public service in some parts of the country. If the Government is serious about infrastructure investment in the regions, it must step in and protect what already exists."

The airline, which carries eight million passengers a year from 71 airports in the UK and Europe, was bought by current owners Virgin, Stobart and Cyrus in 2018 for £2.9 million.

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