A scheme for cheaper flights to and from Scotland’s remote areas has been renewed and extended.
The extension of the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) was announced by Transport Secretary Michael Matheson and welcomed by local politicians.
The ADS provides eligible travellers with a discount of 50% on core air fares and had been due for review at the end of this month.
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Mr Matheson said the scheme would be renewed until December 31, 2020, and will be extended to cover the whole of Caithness and further parts of Sutherland.
Students studying in the eligible areas, but whose main residence is elsewhere, will also be included in the scheme.
Mr Matheson said: “We know the Air Discount Scheme is very popular and plays a vital role in keeping our remote communities connected, so I’m delighted we can announce its renewal and extension.
“The eligibility area has been widened to include the entire Caithness postcode, as well as further parts of Sutherland, so more people than ever will be able to access cheaper air fares.
“We also want to encourage people to come to these areas to study, so students at the seven colleges within the eligible areas will now also be able to sign up to the scheme.”
In a joint statement, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and Orkney MSP Liam McArthur of the Lib Dems said: “We welcome confirmation that the Air Discount Scheme, first introduced by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition in 2001, is to continue in place. Over the years, it has been a real benefit to islanders, faced with the high cost of accessing their lifeline air services.”
They added: “Even now, the decision to roll over the current arrangements until the end of 2020 falls far short of past commitments of four years. We will seek assurances that the continuation of this vital scheme after that date is not in doubt.”
Mr Scott and Mr McArthur also renewed their calls for SNP ministers to reverse the decision to exclude business-related travel from the scheme.
The SNP MSPs Gail Ross, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and Alasdair Allan, Western Isles, also welcomed the move.