Published in the Inverness Courier. June 5th 2018.​

The growth of the Inverness-Heathrow air link since its launch in 2016 has been a great success story and there are hopes it could be further expanded.

The service has become one of the most important routes out of Inverness Airport for the business community, making it easier for Highland businesses to connect with global markets and for tourists from across the world to get to Inverness.

Heathrow connections bring nearly 600,000 inbound passengers to Scotland annually and these visitors spend more than £200 million. This includes 5,000 incoming domestic and 14,000 international passengers to Inverness, generating £8.2 million of spend in the city and across the region.

The service has helped boost business for some of our most famous brands, such as Loch Ness by Jacobite, which saw a 12 per cent rise in visitors in the first few months of the re-launched flights, and Tomatin Distillery, which has seen business as a leading exporter grow significantly.

While domestic connections at Heathrow have fallen from 18 in 1990 to just eight today due to capacity constraints, proposed expansion at the hub airport willstrengthen existing links and establish new routes.

Progress on Heathrow’s third runway project could mean the connection between the UK capital and the capital of the Highlands, which already has increased from seven to ten flights a week, extending to 14 per week.

This very welcome prospect, which includes double daily flights, was outlined by 

Heathrow Airport executives recently to my colleagues in Scottish Chamber of Commerce.

It was something I was keen to develop last week with Baroness Sugg, the UK Government Aviation Minister, at a meeting hosted by Inverness Airport. Our discussion examined how the proposed expansion at Heathrow can open up opportunities for Scottish businesses at a time when the Westminster Government is developing its aviation strategy.

This followed up an earlier discussion last month, where I represented the chamber and the wider Highland business community when Heathrow Airport hosted a Scottish Parliamentary reception, sponsored by Kate Forbes MSP and supported by Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh Chambers of Commerce. 

It is, of course, a subject very close to my heart. Inverness Chamber of Commerce has been at the forefront of the campaign to re-instate the Inverness-Heathrow flights and having their frequency increased. We have consistently argued that strong air links, both domestic and international, are vital for a successful, growing economy and to increase the options for business and leisure passengers.  

Our lobbying has obviously paid off and we have earned praise from a number of quarters, not least from John Holland-Kaye, chief executive officer of Heathrow Airport, who said “there is no question that we would not have the fantastic links now between Inverness, Heathrow and the world had it not been for Stewart and the chamber and the great work they’ve done in promoting the fantastic opportunities in Inverness”.

The expansion of Heathrow offers a chance to build on the success to date and Inverness Chamber of Commerce will continue to campaign for the best possible service.