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21/06/2012 - Government urged to back air links between Inverness and London

      Government urged to back air links between Inverness and London

A new drive to influence UK Government aviation policy is being launched amid major concerns over the future of high quality air links between Inverness and London.

The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS) is concerned landing slots for domestic flights at Gatwick and Heathrow airports may be lost to more profitable long-haul flights because of the Government’s opposition to new runway developments in South East England.
As a result, hopes of re-establishing flights between Inverness and Heathrow – seen as a highly beneficial development for the Highlands – could be dashed and existing services to Gatwick may suffer.
The warning came as the latest figures from airport operator Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) showed continuing growth in demand for flights between the Highland capital and London.
With the Department for Transport (DfT) shortly to publish a major consultation on a “Sustainable Aviation Framework for the UK”, HITRANS has produced a new report making a robust case for protection and improvement of London air links. In preparing the report HITRANS joined forces with Nestrans, the transport partnership serving Aberdeen City and Shire, where there is also growing concern over the impact on services of increasing pressure on landing slots.
Based on detailed analysis of current schedules and markets for air travel to and from London and the importance of the connections to the North of Scotland’s principal economic sectors, the report forms the basis of the transport partnerships’ joint input to the DfT consultation.
HITRANS Partnership Director, Dave Duthie, said: “Both partnerships have major concerns about the prospects of retaining high quality air links to and through London in the medium to long term if the Government’s policy stance of not supporting the development of any new runways in the South East of England is maintained.
“Landing slots at the UK’s two most important gateway airports – Heathrow and Gatwick – would be at a premium in the increasingly constrained capacity that would result from this. Those slots currently used by services from the more peripheral regions of the UK would be under severe pressure from airlines seeing use of slots for new long-haul services as offering the prospect of higher margins.
“With this in mind, and given the great importance of existing air links to Gatwick and Heathrow to our respective economies, HITRANS and Nestrans commissioned this report to present an evidence-based case for retention – and in the case of Inverness, expansion – of services.”
The report highlights “lack of focus” by Government over the past 20 years on the need to protect domestic air links with Heathrow and Gatwick.
It goes on to state: “The strategic policy advice the Civil Aviation Authority is now offering to Government appears to recognise explicitly the need for UK   regions such as the North of Scotland to have access to hub airports to facilitate travel to the wider world. While foreign hubs may offer choice, there are clearly risks in relying solely on non-UK airports to provide such essential connectivity, especially when Heathrow is the dominant hub in Western Europe in terms of the access it offers to long-haul markets.
“The CAA’s revamped policy advice and the forthcoming Sustainable Aviation Framework Consultation would appear, therefore, to provide a perfect platform from which to press DfT to revisit its overly restrictive and now clearly outdated regional air access policy.”
HITRANS hope to enlist the support of Highland politicians, the area’s business community and other users of London air services to press for their retention and improvement.
 
Ends
For further information contact HITRANS Programme Manager Ranald Robertson on 01667 460464
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