Transport Secretary fails to answer MSP’s call for PSO on Wick routes

Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, has failed to answer a Highlands and Islands MSP’s call for consideration of a Public Service Obligation on Wick airline routes.

Labour MSP, David Stewart, wrote to Mr Matheson last month following concern from Caithness Chamber of Commerce and airline company Eastern Airways about the continued viability of airline services.

Mr Stewart raised the issue of a possible PSO on the Edinburgh/Wick airline route last year due to concerns from local businesses, including a local hotelier.

In July this year he wrote to Mr Matheson again but this time it was with concerns over the Wick/Aberdeen service, supporting the chamber of commerce in its argument for a PSO on the Wick routes due to market failure.

A PSO, under European transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for the economic development of the region they serve. PSOs are the responsibility of the UK Government. However, the Scottish Government can liaise with Westminster on routes seen as vulnerable.

“I appealed to Mr Matheson to look at the option of a PSO again,” explained Mr Stewart.

“But his reply side-stepped the issue and instead mentioned the ‘poor’ reliability of Eastern Airways in recent times and that this has impacted on passenger confidence.

“What I would hate to see happening is the complete failure of services into Wick because of lack of action by the Scottish Government. That would be disastrous for this fragile area.

“Obviously air services are vital for this remote, rural area and I fully support any campaign to ring-fence them.”

Mr Matheson said in his reply that he was considering a report by the Caithness chamber and that the Government would be “undertaking a leaflet drop to all residential properties in the area” to highlight the Air Discount Scheme which is operating until December 2020.

“While a leaflet drop might encourage a few more passengers on board, it won’t solve the problem,” said Mr Stewart.

“It’s a short-term measure when a long-term solution is needed.”