Keep flying the flag for Highland air links
The issue of air connectivity for the Highlands continues to be a hot topic for many reasons.
The recent approval by ministers of plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport is a huge shot in the arm for the campaign to strengthen and enhance links to Inverness.
Inverness Chamber of Commerce has been at the forefront of this campaign and will maintain the political pressure to secure more frequent services and the economic benefits they bring.
Ahead of Brexit, businesses need reassurance that the government is getting things sorted domestically and Heathrow is a key issue to develop to help restore some confidence.
I agree with my colleague Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, who wrote recently that only by expanding the UK’S aviation capacity are we giving ourselves a chance, post-Brexit, to maintain a place among the leading economies.
With Inverness Airport becoming increasingly more important for business, due to the major inadequacies of our rail network and the full dualling upgrade of the A9 still some years away, we need to protect this vital asset.
One potential threat is Air Departure Tax (ADT) which was discussed at a Scottish Government workshop I attended last month. ADT is payable by aircraft operators from airports across the UK, including Scotland. Currently, the Highlands and Islands is exempt for all departing passengers in recognition of the geographical challenges we face as a remote region of the UK.
Maintaining this exemption is critical, otherwise air fares from Inverness would rise, with the potential of services being underused and possibly cut. This would not only harm business and leisure passengers, but also the airport and its ability to attract more direct flights, while it would also have an adverse impact on Inverness as an air hub and part of a wider network of connectivity.
During one of Inverness Chamber of Commerce’s regular business breakfasts last month we outlined our support for Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd in its fight to maintain the current position to ensure Inverness plays on a near level playing field against other larger airports.
Our breakfast was also focused on supporting existing air services including the new additions to the network like the Loganair flights between Inverness and Bergen. This is an outstanding example of the kind of ambitious projects that increase choice for passengers holidaying or doing business abroad.
At the same time, it is another route taking incoming passengers to the Highlands, including the rising number of Scandinavian golfers who are attracted by some of the finest links courses in the world.
A lot of work and lobbying goes into introducing these new routes, largely in the background by colleagues in HIAL. But like any commercial operation, they need customer support to become established and I trust this route will continue to be part of our transport infrastructure for many years to come.