Car parking charges will be introduced at Sumburgh Airport as part of a long-term programme of “sustainable improvement”.
Hial says it has limited the new charge to £3 per 24-hour period.
But the move by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) has been heavily criticised by the vice chairman of the airport’s consultative committee and Northern Isles MSPs.
Allison Duncan argues passengers who use the airport are already faced with high travel costs, with some families having to fork out up to £400 to get off the island.
He says charging customers to park their cars will only add fuel to the fire.
Mr Duncan has also criticised Hial for announcing the decision without informing the consultative committee. Although the committee is due to meet next Thursday, car parking does not feature on the agenda.
“As far as I’m concerned, we have very high fares to pay when going away from Shetland to the mainland – £300-£400 in some cases – and now they’re going to add more expense to our travel.”
Northern Isles MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have condemned the decision to introduce the charge at Stornoway, Kirkwall and Sumburgh airports.
The two MSPs plan to raise their concerns directly with the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf.
They have also launched a petition opposing the move and have encouraged constituents to make their voices heard
Mr Scott said: “I deplore this decision and will campaign to stop the introduction of a Hial tax on islanders travelling.
“I stopped this happening when I was the transport minister and I am very disappointed that an SNP government is allowing the introduction of charges. Shetland will campaign against this.
“Sumburgh is right at the south end of our islands. It is 25 miles from Lerwick. Public transport links are not frequent so for most travellers there is no option but to take the car to the airport.
“Next week parliament will debate the Islands Bill. How is the imposition of car parking charges at Sumburgh and Kirkwall consistent with Islands proofing? We will ask government ministers to explain.”
Hial says the charges will be introduced early in the summer.
It argues the decision will bring the three island airports in line with its other operated airports at Inverness and Dundee, where parking charges are already in place.
Hial insists the £500,000 investment is expected to be recouped in the first 12 months of operation. From thereon money raised will be continuously reinvested to “maintain and ultimately improve facilities, ensuring the long-term resilience of airport operations on the islands”.
A free hour pick up/drop off period will operate which is intended to assist those who may rely on relatives and friends picking up or dropping off.
A ticket waiver scheme will allow passengers who have to travel to attend medical and hospital appointments to park for free.
Hial’s managing director Inglis Lyon said: “Hial is committed to being open and transparent in its operations and our decision to increase charges has been taken in the best interests ensuring long-term sustainability of our airports.
“The new parking charges will raise revenue that will be reinvested into maintaining and continuously developing the airports in years to come.
“Hial airports are required to operate as cost-effectively as possible and we need to develop a sensible, fair and pragmatic funding model that enables us to deliver growth and ensure the vital connectivity to our communities in the Highlands and Islands.
“We have been mindful of the important role that air travel plays for those people who use health care facilities and receive medical treatment on the mainland and we are making provision to ensure they will be exempt from parking charges.
“We have no intention of introducing drop off charges at our airports. At Sumburgh, Kirkwall and Stornoway we will implement a one-hour pick up and drop off zone, which should mitigate against the vast majority of flight delays. Unlike other airports we do not charge for people to drop off and pick up.”
Shetland Islands Council is calling for early discussions with Hial over its plans.
Interim leader Steven Coutts said: “I am extremely disappointed that Hial has not consulted the local authority on these plans prior to an announcement. Nor has the issue been brought before the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee.
“The services running out of Sumburgh rely on the airport’s infrastructure, but we’re asking for HIAL’s evidence that every other source of funding for improvements was investigated before taking this decision.
“It is a prime example of how decisions can have distinctly ‘island’ impacts, leading to what I believe are disproportionately negative effects – an issue which the council continues to campaign against.”
Ryan Thomson is chairman of the SIC’s environment and transport committee and local transport partnership ZetTrans.
He said: “It’s very disappointing to hear of these proposals, given there have been no conversations between Hial and the SIC in recent years regarding this matter and no public engagement or consultation here in Shetland with regard to what is a lifeline service.
“There will be additional pressures on public transport, and a consultation would also have hightlighted that.
“This will have an impact on the users of the airport, and place an additional financial burden on the people of Shetland who are simply trying to get on and off the island.
“There remain unanswered questions regarding these parking charges and the SIC will be looking to engage with Hial as soon as possible.”
Work is expected to begin soon on installing new pay stations and barriers at the three airports.
The number of spaces planned for each airport are: Sumburgh 508 Kirkwall 288; Stornoway 318. These figures are based on current use and anticipated growth.
The planned £3 per day flat rate means it will be the same for short-term and long-term parking. The charges are comparable with other parking rates found elsewhere in the local communities.
Blue badge holders will be charged for their cars at the same rate as other drivers. Hial says there will be provision for blue badge holders within the airport car parks and designated parking bays will be provided as close to the terminal as possible.