Orkney and Shetland MSPs Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott have called for the creation of a working group to look at the long term provision of lifeline air services to and from the islands.
The proposal coincides with a meeting this week (3rd December) involving MSPs from across the Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Government Transport Minister to consider on-going concerns about reliability on air routes serving the region. It follows an earlier assurance to Mr McArthur from the First Minister that she would make a personal intervention with Loganair on the issue of reliability.
In a letter to the Transport Minister, copied to other MSPs with an interest, Tavish Scott MSP and Liam McArthur MSP have called for a short life working group to investigate the future replacement of Loganair’s Saab aircraft fleet and consider what the consequences of this might be for costs, infrastructure and the way the routes are served.
Writing in the joint letter, the Northern Isles MSP’s said:
“For those of us living and working in the Highlands & Islands, Loganair is the only provider of scheduled air services. They are a lifeline link for many businesses, patients travelling to hospital appointments as well as the wider public.
“A cornerstone of our campaign to press for improved service reliability has been to build wider public and political support. The response from the public in Orkney and Shetland has been overwhelming, but we are also grateful for your support, that of the First Minister and indeed of the wider cross party group of MSPs in the region.
“Unfortunately, due to prior commitments in Brussels and a parliamentary debate on fisheries, neither of us will be able to attend the meeting that has been arranged for tomorrow afternoon (3 December). We would, however, like to propose an idea for consideration at that meeting, which may help in addressing the medium to longer term concerns.
“We speak regularly with Loganair senior management and they acknowledge that improving reliability of their services is an absolute priority. We understand that an action plan is in place and being taken forward to deliver these improvements. It is to be hoped that this can begin delivering the improvements we all wish to see.
“Of course the service that Loganair provides receives substantial amounts of public money through the Air Discount Scheme. This is absolutely appropriate, given the lifeline nature of these air services, but begs a question about what steps the government is taking or can take to reassure itself about continuity of service over the longer term.
“Given the age of Loganair’s Saab fleet, there will presumably be a need at some point to look at replacement with newer aircraft. The options currently appear limited, but that may not be the case in future. Nevertheless, any decision to introduce new aircraft could have far-reaching implications in terms of how routes are serviced, cost structures and runway/airport infrastructure. Clearly, these all have implications for ADS, HIAL and Transport Scotland.
“We are proposing, therefore, the creation of a short life working group to allow for joint discussions between all relevant parties, including Loganair, about the longer term provision of this lifeline service. We recognise that Loganair is a private company, answerable to its shareholders, but feel that the decisions it takes over the coming years will have a profound bearing on the communities we represent and others across the region, as well as the infrastructure and support provided through the Scottish Government and its agencies. On that basis, we feel there is a strong case for the joint approach we propose.
“We hope that you and others attending tomorrow’s meeting will support such an approach and look forward to hearing from you in due course.”