Flights from Wick to Aberdeen will take off again thanks to the boost of a near £4 million public subsidy.
Highland Council and Transport Scotland has awarded Eastern Airways a Public Service Obligation (PSO) to run for three years.
However, flights from Wick John O’Groats Airport will operate up to twice daily each way on weekdays and Sundays from April 11.
‘Economic revitalisation’ of region
Caithness Chamber of Commerce took the lead in pushing for a PSO and today welcomed the “return of the lifeline service”.
Chief executive Trudy Morris said: “I am delighted by today’s announcement, which will be welcome news for the business community across the North Highlands.
“The return of this lifeline service will enable us to better work with customers and partners across Scotland, to seek out new opportunities, and will play a vital role in the economic revitalisation of the region post-covid.
“Ensuring the return of air services to Wick has been a long-term priority for the chamber and we, along with a range of partners, have invested significant time and effort to develop and secure a PSO.”
The reintroduction of the route is also expected to create around 20 jobs for the local community.
The PSO is funded for three years, with a commitment of £1m per annum from the Scottish Government and £300,000 per annum from the Highland Council.
Flights include an early morning departure on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 25th April.
Eastern said flights could be booked now and fares on the route will start from £39.99 one-way, including a complimentary 15kg hold bag and all taxes and charges.
Transport minister Jenny Gilruth said: “I welcome the announcement of the award of this contract which will see the restoration of important connectivity for Caithness.
“This service will benefit business travellers and provide visitors with a direct route to experience all that Caithness can offer.
“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting the service both through our direct contribution to the cost of the flights and our ongoing subsidy of Wick John O’Groats Airport.”
Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “This is terrific news not just for Caithness but for the whole Highlands.
“Caithness is very much at the fore of expanding the development of future opportunities in sectors such as renewable energy and space.
“These new opportunities comes not only supply chain benefits to the local economy but also inward migration and the creation of high value jobs.”
She added: “As a council we could not have afforded to cover the costs of the service ourselves, so we are very grateful and thank the Scottish Government and NDA for their help.”
‘Jubilation’ at return of service
Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Jamie Stone said: “I am jubilant that people will once again be able to fly in and out of Wick Airport.
“After many years of campaigning, this is a fantastic achievement for all involved.
“Connectivity is pivotal to the success of the far North, and this service between Wick and Aberdeen is the best that we have had in years.
“I am deeply proud to have played a part in reinstating this service and I hope that it sends a strong signal to the government that Caithness and Sutherland matter.”
Delight from all involved
Caithness Chamber, with funding from Dounreay Site Restoration which is responsible for overseeing the decommissioning of the nuclear plant, developed the original business case for a PSO.
Ms Morris continued: “The world has changed significantly since we drafted the original business case, but the fundamental needs of the region to connect with other areas across Scotland, the rest of the UK, and globally has not.
“The PSO that has been secured will offer that vital connectivity, and will provide a strong base for further growth in years to come.
“It has been a long and hard road to get here and we are delighted to see the return of commercial air services to Wick.”
Eastern Airways managing director Adam Wheatley added: “We welcome the approach taken by all stakeholders and partners to bring this Wick John O’Groats to Aberdeen air service back.
“Eastern Airways will support the Caithness & North Sutherland community in wider accessibility, also adding around 20 new direct and indirect jobs in supporting the service.”
Matt Hazelwood, chief commercial officer at AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen International Airport, said: “A lot of work has been ongoing behind the scenes with a number of different organisations, and we thank everyone for all their hard work.
“This route will be warmly welcomed by those looking to travel into Aberdeen for medical appointments and onward connections.
“We look forward to welcoming passengers back to and from Wick to our terminal.”