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MSPs pledge support for Wick air routes to be ring-fenced in law

Some believe that Wick John O’ Groat’s Airport should be given a Public Service Obligation status by the Scottish Government to attract major businesses.
Some believe that Wick John O’ Groat’s Airport should be given a Public Service Obligation status by the Scottish Government to attract major businesses.

Labour’s David Stewart and Rhoda Grant are supporting constituents who want to see Wick air routes ring-fenced and protected for the future.

The MSPs, who represent the Highlands and Islands, have been contacted by locals calling for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) on Caithness air services because they argue the region has been failed by its transport links.

A PSO, under EU transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for economic development of the region.

Mr Stewart contacted Transport Secretary Michael Matheson after a recent visit to Caithness, where the need for a PSO was raised by residents concerned about the future of the Wick-Edinburgh route.

Mrs Grant has been contacted by a business worried about fragile air links.

Caithness Chamber of Commerce argued last month that a PSO route to Wick would put Caithness and Sutherland on an equal footing with many remote and rural communities elsewhere in Scotland well-served by air routes.

In his reply to the MSPs, Mr Matheson highlighted Wick’s two scheduled air services, Wick-Edinburgh and Wick-Aberdeen, and said that “given the commercial nature of the current air services serving multiple destinations, it is not possible to impose a PSO on an air service from Wick at present”.

Mr Matheson added: “Should both current services cease we would consider the use of a PSO.”

Mr Stewart stressed that the travel time from Edinburgh was at least five hours by car and eight hours by public transport, weather permitting.

The MSP added: “The Scottish Government’s reply is disappointing. There is deep concern in Caithness about the future viability of Wick’s air routes and it would be a great pity if we had to wait for a complete failure of the service before the Scottish Government take action. I will be raising this in the Scottish Parliament as Convener of the Cross-Party Group on Aviation.”

Mr Grant said businesses were already challenged by being in a remote area and maintaining air links was vital for development.

She added: “Many jobs hang in the balance which are connected to a good air service, from those at the airport itself, to Aberdeen links to the oil and gas industry, to servicing wind energy developments.

“Dounreay decommissioning is ongoing and relies on air transport for travelling contractors. Passengers should not have to travel to Inverness to access vital air services.”

HIAL results, Page 31

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