McArthur secures commitment from minister on air service accessibility

23 May 2024
Loganair Islander Plane on North Ronaldsay, by Rob Hodgkins, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

During Transport Questions in the Parliament today, Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur secured a commitment from the Scottish Government to engage with Orkney Islands Council over accessibility on lifeline air services to North Ronaldsay and other outer north isles.

Mr McArthur recently joined a roundtable meeting to discuss the accessibility of the Islander aircraft which provides air services on these routes. Also present at the meeting were representatives from North Ronaldsay Community Council, Orkney Islands Council, NHS Orkney, Loganair, and others.

Following the meeting, Mr McArthur spoke in the chamber about the issues that islanders with mobility issues have had in making use of their lifeline air service, describing the experiences of some residents as “painful” and “undignified”. He asked the Government to commit to engaging with OIC as the process of re-tendering the contract is taken forward, to ensure that these issues are resolved and all islanders have access to the services upon which they depend.

In response, Minister Jim Fairlie said that Transport Scotland’s Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland had recently written to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar about a similar matter in the Western Isles, and gave a commitment to Mr McArthur to engage with Orkney Islands Council. He also encouraged Mr McArthur to make representations to HITRANS, the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership, about the matter.

Speaking in the chamber, Mr McArthur said:

“I’m told some island residents with mobility issues find the prospect of trying to get in and out of the aircraft so painful and/or undignified that they are opting not to travel, often missing health and other important appointments on the Orkney mainland.

“So will the Minister agree to ask his officials to engage with Orkney Islands Council to see what more might be done in the context of the forthcoming retendering process for the inter-isles service to ensure that this genuine lifeline is accessible to all island residents who depend upon it?”

Responding, Connectivity Minister Jim Fairlie said:

“Yes, I can give that assurance to Liam McArthur.”

Commenting after the exchange, Mr McArthur said:

“It should go without saying that lifeline transport links should be accessible to everyone who relies upon them. However, that is not the case when it comes to Orkney’s inter isles air service.

“The Islander aircraft has served our island communities superbly over many years but even for the young and fit getting in and out of the plane is rarely a graceful exercise. For those with mobility issues, however, it can be undignified and even painful.

“As a result, it seems some island residents are opting not to travel, even missing important appointments on the mainland in the process. That is a real concern and risks more serious health issues developing and the requirement for air ambulance transfers.

“I welcome the Minister’s commitment to engage with the Council on ways to address this issue and I will also be taking up his invitation to make representations to HITRANS.

“I am confident that a solution can be found, but it will require close collaboration and an acceptance that a lifeline air or ferry service that isn’t accessible isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do”.

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