Better Links, On Land As Well As Air, Must Be Priority

Published in the Executive Magazine, December 11th 2018

Stewart Nicol, chief executive, Inverness Chamber of Commerce

A priority for Inverness Chamber of Commerce in the new year will be to intensify our campaign for improved transport links for the Highlands.

The announcement last month that British Airways is extending the Inverness-Heathrow service from March was extremely welcome and will bring enormous benefits for business and leisure travel in addition to our existing air links.

Inverness Chamber has been at the forefront of lobbying efforts, firstly to get the Heathrow service re-instated and, secondly, to have it extended, so we are delighted at the latest development.

However, one of the factors in helping the BA service being extended highlights a looming issue for the region and a wider negative picture on transport infrastructure and connectivity.

BA was clear that it was able to increase flights to Inverness because the airport is exempt from Air Passenger Duty (APD) which it said is stifling growth plans elsewhere.

APD continues to apply to flights departing other Scottish airports, while discussions continue on the exemption for flights leaving Highlands and Islands airports. This has delayed the introduction next year of the Air Departure Tax (ADT), although legislation was passed in 2017.

Inverness Chamber will maintain our stance to keep the exemption to ensure air fares from Inverness do not increase and services are not put at risk. Losing the exemption would not only affect passengers, but also Inverness Airport’s ability to attract more direct flights.

As part of the ADT Highlands and Islands Working Group, we will be putting the case in the strongest possible terms for the status quo to continue.

The BA announcement was also significant because air travel is increasingly more important to the Highlands due to the current inadequacies of both our rail and road networks.

Inverness Chamber has consistently pressed for improvements to the Highland rail network and feel that hourly trains to Aberdeen and the Central Belt are an absolute essential. Full dualling of the A9 trunk road between Inverness and Perth is also several years away.

Together with the Scottish Chambers of Commerce network, we will maintain pressure on the Scottish Government to improve these vital transport projects as quickly as possible.

Having frequent direct links to Heathrow as part of an overall air service programme at a thriving airport is essential to this area’s growth and we have to be wary of threats that could undermine our competitiveness.

But we also have to continue to campaign on other transport fronts to make sure progress is not slowed or halted by a lack of momentum on the roads and railways.