Highland Council bosses are planning to restore scheduled flights to and from Wick airport.
Regular services were halted due to the pandemic, and it is thought that the open market won’t deliver frequent flights in the foreseeable future.
Now the local authority is inviting airlines to bid for routes to Aberdeen and Edinburgh from John O’Groats Airport.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce is also involved, with the group helping to develop an initial business case to prove the requirement for a public service obligation (PSO) for the routes.
The effort has been backed from funding support from Dounreay Site Restoration and the Scottish Government.
Council leader Margaret Davidson has met UK Aviation Minister Robert Courts and local MP Jamie Stone to discuss further support.
Describing the meeting as “helpful”, she said further discussions with officials are due to take place in the hopes of advancing plans.
‘Significant step forward’
Ms Davidson said: “I am really pleased to see the tendering process begin. It is a significant step forward and indicates our commitment to restore air services to and from Wick John O’Groats Airport.
“We are looking to launch the flights at the beginning of next spring and have tried not to be too prescriptive as we are encouraging bidders to come up with their own ideas on how they can best provide the service.
“There is a real commitment on the ground, especially from the Caithness Chamber of Commerce and other local stakeholders, to make this work, so we look forward to bids coming forward that match our aspirations for the future.”
Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: “Once in place, these flights will play a vital role in enabling the economic recovery of the region from the Covid-19 pandemic, and in enabling the development of future opportunities in sectors such as renewable energy and aerospace.”
Requirements for successful bid set out by council bosses
In the hopes of securing bids from airlines looking to pick up the route, council bosses have set out several elements key to the tender:
- The quality of service offered by successful tenderer(s) shall be paramount
airlines are encouraged to offer attractive connectivity and cost control solutions through any fresh approaches.
- The ongoing utility of the services offered to the regions and users served will be key and increasingly sustainable aviation is being encouraged.
- A spread of fares to appeal to the broadest of air travellers is encouraged.
- Periodic passenger surveys shall be undertaken and utilised to fine tune service offerings.
- The council shall closely monitor overall quality of services performed and work in close partnership with the airline(s) selected.
- There shall be a collaborative group established, drawn from various regional stakeholders, to aid the development of the flight services.