Update - Call for PSO on Benbecula – Glasgow air route

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil

Western Isles MP, Angus Brendan MacNeil is asking the Scottish Government to instigate a study on the introduction of a Public Service Obligation (PSO) on the Benbecula to Glasgow air service.

Transport & Islands Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP has recently stated that there are no plans to introduce a Public Service Obligation on the Benbecula to Glasgow air service.

However, Mr MacNeil is calling on the Transport & Islands Minister to reconsider due to the service not being comprehensive each week of the year.

Mr MacNeil said: “There is a PSO on the Barra air service and there is competition on the Stornoway air service and this is good news.

“However, Benbecula has neither and I believe that there is a case for a PSO on the Benbecula to Glasgow air service which would ensure that airfares and service levels as well as perhaps scheduling are reasonable for the Uist community.

“The Minister has recently stated that there are no plans to put in place a PSO on the Benbecula to Glasgow service and that a PSO would only be considered if the existing commercial air service ceased to operate and an alternative operator could not be found to serve the route on a commercial basis.

“I am asking the Minister to revisit this issue and that he starts a study on a PSO for this route, on the basis that the commercial operator cannot and does not run a full weekly service year round with some afternoons in winter not having a service, and the amount of public money already used on the route in the Air Discount Scheme.”

Cllr Calum MacMillan, Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eiriosgaigh agus Uibhist a Deas added: “The fare paying passengers travelling to and from Uist are being disadvantaged by the current system.

“The occupancy rate is currently less than 30% which means that 70% of the total available seats on this service could be used for free.

“The fares of the 30% are generally paid for by government or by government agencies which means that the fares are set on a non-competitive basis which inflates the fares charged to non-government paid fares.”

Cllr Iain MacNeil, Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eiriosgaigh agus Uibhist a Deas welcomed the MP’s support in a number of priorities identified by Uist and Barra Councillors.

He continued: “I was disappointed when the initial approach to the Minister was turned down but had agreed to continue making a case for a PSO, so this intervention by Angus Brendan is timely and welcome.”

Commenting on the issue air service provider Loganair pointed out that if any additional funding is allocated it should be for the reinstatement of the Air Discount Scheme for business travel rather than applying a PSO on the route.

Jonathan Hinkles, Loganair’s Managing Director said: “Where any additional funding is available to support air services, we believe that the priority must be the reinstatement of the Air Discount Scheme for business travel, which would benefit all island communities.

“It’s no coincidence that the Glasgow-Benbecula service reduced from two to one flight on many weekdays in the winter several years ago when ADS was removed for business travel.

“Introducing a PSO would, on its own, just result in uneconomic flights being added to the schedule in the winter, and it’s hard to see how that would benefit anyone.

“Using a lesser amount of funding to reinstate ADS for business travel would help to increase demand, leading to more flights and helping to maintain a higher frequency of service throughout all of the Highlands and Islands.”

He added: “I do take issue with the comments by Cllr Calum MacMillan however. He is wholly wrong to say that 70% of seats on our services are empty and that of the remaining 30%, those are all filled by tax-payer funded travellers.

“Both statements are completely untrue, and indeed are pretty insulting given the extensive number of tourists and visitors whom Loganair flies to Benbecula each year, and the travel that we facilitate for those visiting friends and relatives.

“We work hard to encourage this, growing passenger numbers – as we have this year – by offering more seats at cheaper fares than ever before.

“It’s really not helpful to the conduct of a rational debate about air services for ill-informed claptrap of this nature to be voiced by an elected representative.”