Airport operator Hial and the Scottish government have responded to claims made against them by the online campaign group “Islanders for Fair Air Fares”.
Earlier today the campaign revealed it had changed its name from “Islanders against Flybe and Loganair’s excessive prices” to reflect the fact that Loganair had introduced a “compassionate” fare.
Mr Preston said the campaign would continue with its objective of securing fair charges, as the new name suggested. He said: “The Scottish government and Hial [Highlands and Islands Airports Limited] have a lot to do with our prices. We have pushed the government on an increase to ADS and an expansion of the scheme and we look forward to hearing more on this from them soon.
“Hial however remain distant, they do not seem to want to engage or even discuss how their passenger fee – which is among the highest in the UK for some of the worst facilities – affects each and every single island flight. They appear to be under the impression this is solely the airline’s fault.”
But Hial has emphatically denied that it is not engaging with the campaigners.
According to Sumburgh Airport development manager Andrew Gower, he met representatives from the campaign group on 11th August, when he told them Hial managing director Inglis Lyon was also keen to meet them. In a follow up email the next day, he again stated that Mr Lyon would be happy to meet them, either in Shetland or on the mainland, but there had been no response as yet.
Mr Gower said: “We are surprised at the comments made by the campaign group regarding our willingness to engage with them given that we have already had initial discussions with representatives at Sumburgh Airport and the Hial managing director has also extended an open invitation to meet with him. More than a month after we issued this invitation, we have not yet received a response.
“We are happy to engage in an open and honest discussion about the cost of air fares with the campaign group. However, Hial is just one of the players in this discussion. Our airport charges account for only part of the cost of air fares, around nine per cent of the typical Loganair fare.
“There are many other factors to consider, including charges at other Scottish airports, airline costs such as fuel, the impact of Air Passenger Duty and the level of profits airlines are making on these routes. Hial operates at a commercial loss in order to sustain its island services and our budgets are fixed; therefore if we were to reduce landing charges, we would need to recover the income from other funding sources – for example, some airports have adopted development surcharges or drop off charges for motorists, neither of which we support.
“The other option is that we reduce our capital investment programme, effectively allowing the fabric of our terminal buildings to deteriorate. Again, that is not an option we are willing to consider. We are currently investing millions of pounds across our group, with Sumburgh the biggest single beneficiary, to deliver a better customer experience – but, of course, that investment has to be paid for.
“It is not a straight forward choice between lower airport charges and lower air fares. The issue is much more complex and requires a rounded and transparent solution. Whatever solution is found must be for the long term.
“We look forward to receiving a reply from the campaign group following our invitation to meet the MD.”
A Scottish government statement said that the Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek MacKay had personally met the campaigners. He was “very understanding of their position on air fares and is considering future policy options to help address the issue.”
It added: “A scoping exercise is also being carried out by local authorities to provide further information on fares, reliability, and the long term sustainability of services. The minister will speak with Loganair and other stakeholders in due course.
“However, it is important to note the majority of air services to the islands are operated on a commercial basis and Hial’s airport charges are substantially lower than they would otherwise be, due to the significant funding provided by the Scottish government.
“The Scottish government is also committed to continuing the Air Discount Scheme which provides a 40 per cent subsidy for eligible passengers. The scheme cost over £6 million in 2014-15 and, in February, the Minister for Transport and Islands announced it has been extended until 31st March 2019 allowing islanders to continue to benefit from reduced fares.”