Research is being carried out to explore the feasibility of the Scottish Government reintroducing the Air Discount Scheme for business users.
They will also be looking at extending the scheme to include local authority personnel, as well as individual travellers.
HITRANS, the regional transport partnership for the Highlands and Islands, has commissioned a study to examine the benefits and costs of the scheme, which significantly reduces the cost of air travel for those living in eligible geographical areas of the Highlands & Islands.
The Scheme was introduced by the Scottish Government in 2006 to benefit businesses and individual travellers from air dependent communities. In April 2011, the scheme was restricted to non-business trips. Flights made as part of an individual’s work for the private, public or third sectors was no longer deemed eligible for a discount.
This was relaxed in July 2012 when ADS was reinstated for business trips made by those working in the third sector. Further, in April 2015 the level of discount was raised from 40% to its current level of 50%.
HITRANS have commissioned Reference Economic Consultants to carry out the research.
An online survey of Private Sector Businesses is also being conducted to collect data on businesses’ current use of the relevant air services, including frequency, trip purposes.
The survey will capture information about changes in use of air services by businesses since 2011 and wider business impacts from the change in policy.
A copy of the online survey can be found at: http://www.hitrans.org.uk/News. A deadline for responses has been set for Sunday 22nd May.
The online questionnaire will also be supported by a series of more in depth telephone interviews. The research will also include consultation with the relevant airlines - Loganair and Eastern Airways.
The study will review the fares that are currently being charged so research will be undertaken on the fares that are available online for each of the relevant routes and how these fares vary as a result of multiple factors including; how far in advance they are booked; their flexibility and impact of trip duration.
Also under scrutiny will be other schemes in the EU that offer reduced fares to business users, including the means by which they are funded and eligibility criteria.
Ranald Robertson, Director of HITRANS, said: “Affordable and reliable air travel is vital to the economic wellbeing of our island and rural communities.
“Our research aims to demonstrate - through evidence - if there is a case for reinstating the discount for all business flights in recognition of the importance to our communities.”
Councillor John Mackay, Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said of the move: ““We very much welcome this feasibility study and would encourage as many as possible to take part in the survey.
“The Comhairle has always campaigned for reinstating the discount for all business flights in recognition of the islands’ economy and to help give business a level playing field.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant added her voice to encourage businesses to fill in the survey.
Mrs Grant said: “The survey is part of the development of the business case.
“I would encourage as many people as possible to take part and build up a case for this extension with information needed ranging from the frequency of trips to the estimated total annual spend on flights.
“All responses will be treated in strictest confidence and the survey takes about 10 minutes to complete, but it will be well be worth it if the case can be backed up with firm figures.
“Businesses surviving in remote, fragile communities would find an extension a welcome boost and I will support any move to develop the scheme.”