Curtailed air scheme ‘hurting businesses’

MSP Tavish Scott has appealed for a re-introduction of the air discount scheme for business purposes after it was revealed that 60,000 fewer passengers were eligible for the subsidy than in 2010, a year after it started.

Mr Scott, who is credited with first introducing the scheme, branded the Scottish government’s axing of business traffic from the ADS a “badly thought out decision”.

Figures on how many people benefited from the scheme were revealed in answers to Scottish parliamentary questions lodged by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

In its first year the ADS reduced the cost of over 185,000 flights to and from the Northern Isles, but this figure dropped by 60,000 once business travel was excluded.

Mr Scott said:  “The SNP’s cuts to ADS are hitting local businesses in Shetland. Liam McArthur’s work demonstrates that fact.

“I still hope that the nationalist government will change this badly thought out decision. That would especially be the case given the first SNP transport minister endorsed the original ADS I had introduced which helped businesses too.

“It would also be helpful if the leaders of the islands councils supported this campaign within Our Islands Our Future.”

Mr McArthur said the figures showed the extent of the impact on small businesses in the islands.

He said: “It is no surprise then to find that over 60,000 fewer journeys benefited from the scheme this year compared to 2010. That means increased costs for small businesses in Orkney, just when they can ill afford the additional burden.

“My colleague Tavish Scott introduced ADS in 2006 when he was transport minister. At the time, he made very clear that this was a response to the disadvantage faced by those living and working in our island communities as a result of the high cost of accessing lifeline air services.

“Without any prior warning or consultation, however, SNP ministers decided to remove this support from small businesses in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

“Attempts to blame the European Commission were a smokescreen, as it was Scottish ministers who requested a change in the scheme to allow cuts to be made.”

Mr McArthur said businesses in Orkney “knew only too well” the effect this had in pushing up their costs or reducing opportunities to attend events and meetings down south.

“What the figures I have now received from the Scottish government reveal is the true extent of the cuts and the reduction in support available,” he said.

Figures revealed by transport minister Keith Brown were: 2009 – claims made 144,725; 2010 – claims made 185,633; 2011 – claims made – 161,402 (124 flights not approved); 2012 – claims made 136,607 (268 flights not approved); 2013 – claims made – 124,959 (174 flights not approved).

About Peter Johnson

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as an employed and freelance reporter and editor for a variety of print and broadcast media outlets and as as a freelance photographer and film maker/cameraman. In addition to journalism, I have experience in construction, oil analysis, aquaculture, fisheries, the health service and oral history.

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18 comments

  1. fraser cluness

    what we need is another operator to be alowed to come and give fly be some compertition, let them fight it out. bet we would see reduction in prices too

    Reply
  2. Bill Adams

    Why is Tavish Scott still incapable of grasping that business travel is not (and never was)
    covered by the Air Discount Scheme introduced during his short and undistinguished watch as transport minister.
    Just because he thinks it should be included does not make that so.
    The Air Discount Scheme as introduced was not a PSO scheme whereby all subsidised
    fares were available to everyone – whether ordinary island residents , tourists or business travellers .
    It was introduced under what the European Union terms “Aid of a social character”
    specifically to alleviate the social exclusion suffered by ordinary people (ie those of us who unlike businessmen and politicians such Tavish Scott do NOT enjoy the privilege of having an expense account to which we can charge up our travel costs.)

    It beggars belief that Tavish Scott seemingly cannot understand this – after all he has been told about this upteen times by Transport Scotland civil servants.

    Reply
  3. Ali Inkster

    The business expense account in most cases is the businessmans pocket Bill, and if this same scheme is used throughout the rest of Europe to subsidise ordinary people because of the high cost of living on a remote island. just what part of the term “ordinary people” do you think does not apply to Shetlands business people. It is a hell of a lot harder to make a profit up here than in the equivalent business south. And without private enterprise there is no money to pay for the bloated civil service and a hell of a lot less people will live here making room for even more windmills. Seems like a win win for fat eck.

    Reply
  4. David Spence

    The air travel to and from Shetland is a prime example where flybe are monopolizing the situation due to our location and isolation from the rest of mainland Scotland. However, it is not the only business to take advantage of the people of Shetland when it comes to businesses lining their own pockets, lucratively, due to the monopoly factor. Local businesses and shops here have been doing this for years and years……even during the Christmas time, certain businesses will put up their prices by as much as 50% to take advantage of the people of Shetland due to the monopoly factor. Some people may say that Tesco’s and the Internet (Internet Shopping) has closed many local businesses here or, which is more unlikely, local businesses having to lower their prices to compete with mainland UK or the Internet, well………all I can say ‘ Welcome to the 21st century ………lower your prices or I’ll shop outwith these islands……it is as simple as that. ‘

    As for competition of air travel…….. it will never happen…….. the population of Shetland and the number of flights per year would not necessarily justify bringing in competition because the market is just far too small………hence 1 provider, hence rip-off prices.

    Reply
  5. Ali Inkster

    Wrong as ever David, in the past there was eastern airways, business air, Loganair, and British airways all flying in and out of Shetland, and providing the competition that went a good ways to ensuring fair fares.
    There is plenty of scope to introduce other airlines to the route especially just now with all the oil work up here. I suspect a political barrier to other operators on the route not a profit one.

    Reply
    • Bill Adams

      Actually you are wrong Ali. Eastern Airways have never flown scheduled services into Shetland , only oil industry charter flights to Scatsta and recently also into Sumburgh.
      (They do fly Aberdeen – Stornoway )
      The only time there was real competition was as you say when Business Air competed with British Airways head-on.
      But David Spence is probably right in pointing out that our population base is too small to sustain competition on our air routes.
      I think you will find that most subsidy schemes elsewhere in the EU are PSO schemes and not aid of a social character.
      In any case it is incumbent on Tavish Scott to come clean and tell us the reasons why he introduced the particular scheme he did.

      Reply
  6. Bert Morrison

    Having travelled the Sumburgh to Aberdeen route at least once a month for the last 8 years, I can honestly say Flybe have provided an excellent service in terms of reliability, customer service and price generally. My experience has been positive in the vast majority of occasions. I recently purchased return trips for February and March at £83 each. That works out at £41.50 each way (about the same as a taxi from Lerwick to the Ness!). I doubt if competition on the route would be viable or give Shetland any better a deal. If you think Flybe are bad, they pale in comparison to Eastern Airways on their Aberdeen to England routes where sky high prices, cancellations and poor customer relations are the norm; just ask your average offshore worker from the North East of England.

    Reply
  7. Ali Inkster

    We’ll Bert I also travel regularly from Sumburgh and have rarely had a fare under £400 return. Then had to pay more at check in because I had the audacity to have 21kg of baggage. I have watched flights leave with empty seats while other passengers are left stranded in Aberdeen. I have watched flybe staff sit doing nothing while other airlines are busy booking hotel rooms then to be told there are no hotel rooms an I will just have to make do. So contrary to your experience Ber. I find flybe utterly useless.

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      The highest charge I have seen, and I believe the maximum, for Edinburgh flights – without ADS discount – is about £450 return. Glasgow is similar, and Aberdeen is cheaper. Those are for “Plus” seats, rather than Economy class.

      The cheapest ADS discounted return flight to Aberdeen is £85, and you can usually get those booking 4-6 weeks in advance, outside of markedly busy periods.

      In short, if you’re regularly being charged £400+ for a return trip from Sumburgh you’re doing something odd during the booking process.

      Reply
      • Ali Inkster

        My flights are almost always last minute and booked about 48 hours before flying. But I still think the prices are ridiculously high when compared to the next leg of my journey which is usually international, booked at the same time and more important cheaper

  8. Bert Morrison

    Maybe I have hit it lucky on the flights I have made with Flybe over the years but Ali your quote of prices is incredulously high even if you don’t apply the ADS discount. The most I have paid if I am not travelling under business expenses is about £140 return and that is leaving my booking pretty late before travel. As for being stuck due to weather – hoteled overnight once and put on the ferry the other with minimal hassle. Just my experience and little to complain about with Flybe. The world is not a perfect place.

    Reply
    • Brian Smith

      You will have to tell us how you book these cheap flights, Bert.

      Reply
  9. Scott Nicolson

    Looking at flights for returning home after working away over the festive, Flybe Economy Plus is the ONLY available ticket @ £223.69.

    When I was on my last ship myself & an AB looked at prices for him to fly to Manchester from Aberdeen, a longer journey was quite considerably cheaper at a mere £89. its absolute extortion.

    Reply
  10. Ali Inkster

    I agree Bert it is incredulous that they charge these prices.

    Reply
  11. Bert Morrison

    Brian, I travel quite a lot at my own expense so price is obviously important. This is the procedure I use:
    1. Always book well in advance – at least a month but the longer the better as flights get progressively dearer as the departure date approaches.
    2. Always book economy class
    3. Never pre-book your seat or accept any other extra charges
    4. Always pay by debit card – credit cards incur charges
    5. Book via your ADS log in http://www.flybe.com/ads (providing you are not travelling under business expenses
    6. I always fly on the last flight from Sumburgh as it suits me and it is by far the cheapest.
    7. I generally fly up from Aberdeen on the midday or mid afternoon flight – again it fits in and is cheaper that the 18.00 flight.
    8. Always take advantage of Flybe special offers – register for receiving notification emails through their website.

    The above works for my situation and I’m sure the average Shetland domestic traveller can get a reasonable deal if they plan ahead, use ADS and avoid extras wherever possible. I hope this helps.

    Reply
  12. Bert Morrison

    Brian, I have just checked the Flybe site and this is a random example of what is currently available:
    LSI – ABZ 10th Feb 19.45 £39.14
    ABZ – LSI 13th Feb 12.05 £47.35
    Total return cost = £86.49

    Even if I wanted to fly tomorrow and back the day after (which is pretty lastminute.com planning), the return cost is £259.60 which is about £140 less than the cheapest Ali normally pays?

    Reply
    • Brian Smith

      Ta.

      Reply
  13. Sandy McDonald

    To get the cheap tickets you do need to book in advance, not much use if you are travelling on short notice I agree. I can book a return flight to Inverness for my wife, 5 year old daughter and myself for a total of 240 quid (using the ADS of course) if I book a month in advance. So basically 80 pounds return each, not too bad in this day and age.

    Reply

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