Caithness councillors mounted a passionate defence of their local airport as they pleaded for a lifeline cash injection to secure its future.
The councillors have confirmed their full support for the business case for Wick Airport to receive Public Service Obligation (PSO) funding as a matter of urgency.
In a motion that will go before a meeting next week, the Caithness councillors have emphasised the fundamental strategic importance of the airport to the economy of the region and the energy, business and tourism sectors in particular.
Caithness committee chairwoman, Nicola Sinclair, said: “The motion sees us stand alongside our public and private sector partners in underlining the critical role of Wick John O’Groats Airport in the economy of Caithness and indeed Highland.
“Covid-19 has sadly provided the backdrop to the recent collapse first of our services to Edinburgh and then later our flights to Aberdeen.
“Nobody saw the pandemic coming but it’s fair to say that stakeholders were aware of the threat to the airport for many months, with declining passenger numbers and issues with scheduling, reliability and affordability.
“It’s to their credit that Caithness Chamber of Commerce and other partners were drafting contingency plans as far back as April 2019 so the business case for a PSO is ready to go forward.
“I want to emphasise that this is a business case and not an approach to the Scottish Government to bail out an unsustainable service.”
Mrs Sinclair said a PSO for Wick Airport is crucial in the post-Dounreay economy.
She added: “It is required throughout the decommissioning process and will be even more important in the diversification of the economy after Dounreay.
“It will support the development of onshore and offshore wind, wave and tidal opportunities in the Pentland, the significant redevelopment of our harbours, the UK vertical launch space port, expanded manufacturing and equality of access to the central belt and beyond for our business sector.”
When Eastern Airways withdrew its scheduled services between Wick and Aberdeen in June, the facility was left with no commercial operators.
It came after Loganair ceased its flights between Wick and Edinburgh in March.
Passenger numbers on the route fell from 11,357 in 2016 to 7,632 last year, a fall of 33%.
Loganair said the route’s viability was already “under serious pressure” long before the coronavirus outbreak caused a further drop in demand
Councillor Struan Mackie said the airport will prove to be a key asset in the post-Covid economic recovery of the region.
He said: “After years of progressive market failure in providing regular and convenient services from the airport, it is clear that the public service obligation is the only option left on the table.
“The work undertaken by the Caithness Chamber of Commerce has made the very clear business case for re-establishing our air connections with Aberdeen and Edinburgh through a PSO.”