My Labour colleague David Stewart and I are supporting constituents who want to see Wick air routes ring-fenced and protected for the future.
We represent the Highlands and Islands, have been contacted by local people calling for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) on Caithness air services because they argue the region has been failed by not having good transport links.
A PSO, under EU transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for the economic development of the region they serve.
Mr Stewart contacted Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, after a recent visit to Caithness where the need for a PSO was raised by constituents particularly concerned about the future of the Wick-Edinburgh route. I have been contacted by a business also 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 us, 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 travelling time from Edinburgh was at least five and a half hours by car and eight hours by public transport, weather conditions permitting.
“The Scottish Government’s reply is disappointing,” said Mr Stewart.
“I’ve been told about the 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.”
Businesses are already challenged by being in a remote, rural area and maintaining of air links were vital for development and jobs.
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 and so on.
Dounreay decommissioning is ongoing and relies on air transport for travelling contractors and executives. Passengers should not have to travel to Inverness to access vital air services.