Transport chiefs have been unable to provide clarity on when non-essential travel can resume in Shetland, amid confusion over the route map out of lockdown.
The Scottish government’s announcement on Wednesday that tourism businesses might open as soon as 15th July – if phase three was reached – led to questions in Shetland about whether regular plane and ferry services may also start again.
Current restrictions mean only essential travel is permitted, which has seen a 95 per cent drop in passenger numbers on NorthLink services during lockdown.
NorthLink has suspended all its bookings and is operating a six-week rolling cancellation system – meaning customers who had booked to travel as far back as July 26th have had their bookings cancelled.
Loganair has also restricted flights for “essential travel and key workers”.
Although it is increasing the number of Shetland flights next week, Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said this was to allow more hospital patients to travel as well as workers in the oil, gas and marine sectors.
Transport Scotland is also sticking to its advice on non-essential travel.
It said in a statement: “We are acutely aware that supporting island communities to move out of lockdown is a complex issue, not least for ferry operators and services.
“Capacity and logistical issues will be a particular challenge whilst maintaining physical distancing measures, and we are working with operators to understand the impact of this and likely demand for travel.
“We also appreciate that our islands are particularly dependent on many of the sectors worst hit by the impact of the public health measures we had to take to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and many island businesses are struggling.”
While TS said it would continue to engage with stakeholders on the option for ferry services, it said that for the time being, it was only for those “who live on our islands with an essential need to travel to or from the mainland, and for essential supplies or business”.
When asked whether the government’s comments on the reopening of tourism business would change the position on ferry travel, TS said it would be “quite some time yet” before such information was available.
ZetTrans chairman Ryan Thomson, who was in discussions with Transport Scotland last week, said he was seeking to ensure Shetland was treated in the same way as the rest of the country.
“There must be recognition that all island communities right across Scotland are unique; however, we need to be guided by science like the rest of the country, and for Shetland to function we require those essential in and outbound connections,” he said.
“The NorthLink route between Aberdeen and Lerwick is our lifeline link.
“Those travelling from Lerwick to Aberdeen should be treated no differently to those travelling from Inverness to Glasgow, for example.
“We need to ensure our transport links are available for booking for essential travel, and not mixed with non-essential tourism. Simply put, we are looking for equality with the rest of the country.”