Open letter asks for air fares action

Runway at Stornoway Airport.
Runway at Stornoway Airport.

A campaign group has released an open letter to the Scottish Transport Minister, asking the government to increase its subsidy for air travel.

The letter by ‘Islanders for Fair Air Fares’ implores Minister Derek Mackay to increase the Air Discount Scheme to from 40 to 50 percent.

Campaigners behind the letter say ticket prices have risen at an alarming rate, reaching “breaking point for many businesses and families.”

The call for more public subsidy came shortly after airline, Loganair, faced councillors, on September 23. Councillors gave the airline a frank account of residents’ concerns.

Loganair boss, Stuart Adams, stated there were 171 weather-related delays this year, compared to 71 in 2014, and 29 weather cancellations this year, compared to four last year.

Loganair did not release to councillors, or The Gazette, the total figures on non-weather related issues.

Mr Adams admitted that there are problems and was insistent that the firm is taking action to resolve long-standing issues.

Turning to the open letter from Islanders for Fair Air Fares to Transport Minister Derek Mackay it states: “These remote businesses are suffering, the tourism industry in our islands is suffering and most concerning is the fact that our health boards are suffering.”

The group suggests that the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) which is currently set at 40 per cent, could be raised to 50 per cent.

The letter says: “Our air travel prices have risen at an alarming rate for years and have now reached breaking point for many businesses and families.

“The power to change much of the negative impact lies with you, not only in your capacity as Minister for Transport but also as Minister for the Islands.

“At present our communities are punished purely on the basis of our geography and that is fundamentally unfair in a Scotland that is supposed to be equal for everyone.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is sympathetic to the campaign’s concerns, with the chair of the transportation and infrastructure committee, John Mackay, saying that the recent meeting with Loganair was very useful.

Mr Mackay said: “The consultation provided an opportunity to directly raise a number of issues - most notably that the levels of service are not currently satisfactory with too many delays and breakdowns.

“We stressed the seriousness for the travelling public in the Islands of a poor service and the need for dependable, reasonably priced air services. We also stressed that the Air Discount Scheme should return to include business travel.

“The letter raises many good points and reflects many of the points that Members of the Comhairle raised with Loganair.”

The Facebook campaign behind the letter originated when a page set up earlier this year attracted over 15,000 ‘likes.’

The transport minister, Derek Mackay, has met with the campaign group, and government says it is understanding of its position on fare prices.

The Air Discount Scheme is set to continue until 2019. It cost over £6m in 2014-15.

A government spokesman said: “A scoping exercise is also being carried out by local authorities to provide factual information on fares, reliability of Loganair’s commercial services, and the long term sustainability of services.

“However, it is important to note the majority of air services to the Islands are operated on a commercial basis.

“Loganair’s fares are made up of range of costs. One part of the cost is airport charges at both ends of the route. Highland and Island Airport’s charges are substantially lower than they would otherwise be, due to the significant subsidy provided by the Scottish Government.”

A Loganair spokesman said: “We had a very productive meeting with the committee, where a wide range of matters were discussed over a period of around two hours.

“Loganair continues to concentrate on implementing a number of different measures to further improve services across its network.

“Regarding to the open letter, the company felt unable to comment as they had not been officially shown the letter.”