Air passengers may soon have to pay to leave their cars at Sumburgh Airport. Operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) is considering introducing parking charges to help plug a £1 million hole in its finances.
But isles MSP Tavish Scott has warned that such a move would meet with fierce resistance given the already high cost of flights even with the Air Discount Scheme (ADS).
Chief executive of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) Inglis Lyon told The Shetland Times the introduction of charges would go some way to helping improve revenue in the next financial year.
He emphasised that nothing was “fixed in tablets of stone”, but pointed out that parking charges planned for Kirkwall and Dundee airports were likely to yield £75,000. A third of that money will be used to supplement bus services meeting planes at the airport.
In Kirkwall, motorists will be charged nothing for the first 30 minutes, £1 after the first three hours, £2 for three to six hours and £3 to park for more than six hours.
“We’re introducing car parking charges at Dundee from 1st December 2009, and we will be introducing car parking charges at Kirkwall by June 2010,” Mr Lyon said.
“We are now looking at Stornoway and Sumburgh. There is nothing fixed in tablets of stone, but if the proposals hold water they will be taken to the board for decision.”
Mr Lyon said current provision of public transport and Sumburgh’s overall location would be taken into account before any charges are introduced.
He said a decision would be made before the end of the current financial year, as HIAL’s revenue budget will be slashed by over £1 million in 2010/2011 because of the current economic climate.
Mr Scott said he had turned down a similar proposal from HIAL when he was transport minister for the previous administration.
“The flights to the island airports are lifeline flights and, even with the benefits of the Air Discount Scheme, the cost of flying is high,” he said.
“For passengers who use Sumburgh it would not be cost effective to provide the sort of dedicated regular fast bus service which airports such as Edinburgh have.
“And, of course, passengers come from all over Shetland, not just from a central point such as Lerwick. So very many passengers need to use their cars to get to the airport and need to leave it there.”
He added a “significant number” of passengers were patients flying south for medical treatment with the NHS paying for their flight.
“If car parking charges were to be introduced, do HIAL think that the NHS should pick up the cost, or do they think that patients should pay? Neither option is acceptable.
“He [Mr Lyon] should be aware that, if HIAL does try to bring in the charges, they will meet with fierce opposition.
“This will not just come from me as the local MSP, but from many others who already pay more than enough to use their lifeline air services to the south.”