Leader of the Highland Council, Cllr Margaret Davidson met with the Aviation Minister, Robert Courts MP and Jamie Stone MP recently to discuss funding for air services to and from Wick John O’Groats airport.
She described their talks as “helpful”, with further discussions with officials due to take place.
The meeting came as The Highland Council commences a tender for air services to and from Wick John O’Groats airport and is working closely with a wide variety of stakeholders to not only encourage tenderers to come forward but to also aid development of the flight services
Caithness and Sutherland is the most peripheral part of mainland UK.
It has significant geographical challenges as to its effective integration into both Scottish and UK national life
Since Covid the air services between Wick John O’Groats airport and Aberdeen and Edinburgh airports have remained suspended, with little prospect of adequate flight frequency being delivered by the open market in the foreseeable future.
An initial business case to prove the requirement for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) from Wick was developed by Caithness Chamber of Commerce with funding support from Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, and partners including the Highland Council were subsequently successful in securing funding from Scottish Government to deliver this and enable the return of scheduled air links to and from Wick John O’Groats airport.
A public tender, inviting airlines to bid with their costs to re-establish air services with minimum specified standards of acceptability in terms of frequency and utility has been prepared and issued.
Key elements of The Highland Council’s tender include that:
the quality of service offered by successful tenderers(s) shall be paramount
airlines are encouraged to offer attractive connectivity and cost control solutions through any fresh approaches
the ongoing utility of the services offered to the regions and users served will be key and increasingly sustainable aviation is being encouraged
a spread of fares to appeal to the broadest of air travellers is encouraged
periodic passenger surveys shall be undertaken and utilised to finetune service offerings
The Council shall closely monitor overall quality of services performed and work in close partnership with the airline(s) selected
There shall be a collaborative group established, drawn from a variety of regional stakeholders, to aid development of the flight services
Commenting further, Cllr Margaret Davidson said:
“I am really pleased to see the tendering process begin. It is a significant step forward and indicates our commitment to restore air services to and from Wick John O’Groats airport.
“We are looking to launch the flights at the beginning of next spring and have tried not to be too prescriptive as we are encouraging bidders to come up with their own ideas on how they can best provide the service.
“There is a real commitment on the ground, especially from the Caithness Chamber of Commerce and other local stakeholders, to make this work, so we look forward to bids coming forward that match our aspirations for the future.”
Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said:
“We are delighted to have been part of the partnership effort to secure the return of lifeline air services from Wick John O’Groats Airport.
“Once in place, these flights will play a vital role in enabling the economic recovery of the region from the COVID-19 pandemic, and in enabling the development of future opportunities in sectors such as renewable energy and aerospace.
“The Chamber looks forward to continuing to work with partners including the Council both throughout the tender process and as the flights being operation, to ensure that they deliver what is required for businesses and communities across the North Highlands.”
The Provost of Wick, Councillor Willie Mackay added:
“There is no doubt that reintroducing air links will allow the North of Scotland to grow and expand.
“As well as extending the aviation network, there is the potential to tap into the big boom in tourism to the north of Scotland and many other economic benefit spin offs.
“Having a collaboration of stakeholders all with a vested interest in making the flights a success is certainly the way forward.”