Stornoway Airport made the final shortlist for Europe’s first spaceport yesterday – only for bosses to rule themselves out of the process hours later.
Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial), which owns and operates the Stornoway’s facility, said it would not be pursuing the ambitious plans – despite excitement about the possibility of the base being installed on the Western Isles.
The firm said it wanted to concentrate on catering to the domestic market rather than setting its sights on space.
The announcement emerged just hours after the Civil Aviation Authority published the results of a three-month consultation into the potential location for a spaceport.
In a further surprise, while Stornoway, Campbeltown and Glasgow Prestwick made the cut – along with Newquay in Cornwall and Llanbedr in north Wales – the two Moray contenders at RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks were dropped.
Last night Grenville Johnston, chairman of the Hial board, said: “Hial has carefully considered the proposals for a spaceport at various Scottish sites, including Stornoway Airport, which Hial owns, and Campbeltown Airport, which it manages on behalf of Machrihanish Airbase Community Company.
“As owners of Stornoway Airport, it is currently not our intention to submit a business proposal. In the event that the owners of Campbeltown Airport decide to proceed we will give them every support and cooperation.
“The board believes that Hial has the knowledge, capability and expertise to offer technical support to potential investors in spaceports. However, our preference is to concentrate on our core business of providing airports that serve the people of the Highlands and Islands. We would nevertheless welcome the opportunity to engage with potential operators and provide whatever technical assistance and logistical support they might require.”
Michael Koetsier, head of inward investment at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), said hopes were still high for the Campbeltown bid.
“The Highlands and Islands region is however still very much in the running,” he said.
The decision not to pursue the two Moray sites was branded “mystifying” by campaigners, who had been confident that they were among the front-runners.
The Civil Aviation Authority cited “overriding military operational factors” as the reason for their removal – referencing the “vital role” the sites play in national defence.