Uncertainty hangs over future of ‘paper plane’ operator Highland Airways

The Highland Airways 'paper plane' at Sumburgh. Click on image to enlarge.
The Highland Airways 'paper plane' at Sumburgh. Click on image to enlarge.

Mail and newspaper deliveries to the isles are continuing as normal despite growing uncertainty hanging over the future of the “paper plane” operator, Highland Airways.

The company announced on Monday that it had temporarily stopped taking bookings to protect customers after experiencing “continuing problems” with its operations.

Executive chairman Kevin Wright was locked in talks with workers at the Inverness Airport throughout the morning, although management stressed the company was not in immediate danger of going out of business.

As if to confirm that newspaper deliveries arrived in Sumburgh as normal, but Edinburgh-based newspaper distributor John Menzies will make alternative arrangements should Highland Airways go out of business.

Although many believe the post shares a flight with the papers, the contract to fly Shetland’s mail actually rests with Ben Air, meaning postal deliveries are not threatened by the possible collapse of the airline company. A Royal Mail spokesman said there would be ” no disruption to mail services”.

Highland Airways also performs duties for the Scottish government’s fisheries protection agency.  Again, flights have continued as normal throughout, but fisheries protection officers are waiting with interest to hear of any developments that may unfold.

“Highland Airways have operated flights for us for the last five years,” a spokesman said. “We are hopeful it won’t come to a worst-case-scenario, but planes are one small part of what we do and contingency plans are in place, although it would be sad if Highland Airways went out of business.”

Launched in 1991 as Air Alba, Highland Airways operates on many island routes in Scotland and Wales.

The company has been struggling in the volatile economic climate despite a management buy-out four years ago backed by a £620,000 injection from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Last month Highland Airways announced it would offer a one-way service from Sumburgh to Inverness for up to 15 passengers at a fixed price of £750 including taxes.

The plans opened up the possibility for travellers to fly to the Highland Capital for as little as £50 a head, assuming they could get enough people to board the flight for the return leg of the paper plane.


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