Highland Airways hopes to attract partner in order to save newspaper flight service

“Paper plane” operator Highland Airways is making “good progress” in attracting a new business partner to help save it from the axe.

The Inverness-based company, which flies daily newspapers into Sumburgh, came close to going bust last week following a difficult trading period brought about by ecomomic woes and the recent spell of bad weather which prevented planes from taking off.

A press statement posted on the company’s website says the organisation is in talks with a potential new partner “who will bring strong synergies and new opportunities to the business”.

“This development presents the airline with a very promising and timely means to address current difficulties,” the statement adds.

The statement declines to say who the potential suitor is and executive chairman Kevin Wright was locked in high-level talks when contacted by The Shetland Times on Monday.

In the meantime, however, the company is accepting bookings on all scheduled flights until the end of February – a positive decision following last week’s move to cancel all bookings in order to “protect” its customers.

Bookings beyond February are not currently available, but the company says even these will be released as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, newspaper deliveries to Shetland have been continuing as normal – apart from the usual disruptions brought about by the snow – since news of Highland Airways’ troubles first broke.

Edinburgh-based newspaper distributor, John Menzies, is keeping an eye on developments and is able to make alternative arrangements to have papers delivered to the isles should talks fail and Highland Airways go down the tubes.

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.

A spokesman said: “Highland Airways have operated flights for us for the last five years. 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 £260,000 injection from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

In December 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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