MSP told PSO to protect Wick flights could take up to a year to put in place

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, is urging the Scottish Government to look seriously at interim measures to save Wick air routes after being told state aid for services could take up to a year to put in place.

Mr Stewart is supporting the campaign for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) to protect the Wick Edinburgh and Wick Aberdeen routes following Caithness being left without scheduled air services.

However, Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, has now told Mr Stewart a PSO “would likely take around nine to 12 months for services to start due to the regulatory and procurement processes required”.

Moreover, in a series of Parliamentary Questions lodged by Mr Stewart, Mr Matheson has said the Scottish Government has held no talks with the UK Government about the serious situation nor made its own assessment of how uncertainty regarding the future of Wick John O’Groats Airport could impact on the Caithness and Sutherland area.

“I’ll say it again, the writing was on the wall long before the collapse of services at Wick airport but the Scottish Government dragged its feet,” said Mr Stewart.

“If a PSO can now not be advanced for up to a year, the Scottish Government must think of emergency measures to ensure services for that area in the intervening period.

“I would have thought discussion with the UK Government, as it has responsibility for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and for the UK Space Agency and their investment in the area, would be beneficial but Mr Matheson has said there have been no talks with them.

“There must be rapid movement on this to keep the Far North’s connectivity and to aid development for the future.”

The MSP wrote to Mr Matheson, and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, after Loganair announced the axing of its Edinburgh-Wick service on Friday, March 27.

The MSP had previously asked the Scottish Government for swift action following the collapse of Flybe when the Wick-Aberdeen route was taken over by Eastern Airways which previously ran it under a franchise for Flybe. Mr Stewart argued that the Wick-Aberdeen service was fragile due to falling passenger numbers. Eastern Airways has now withdrawn this route.

Mr Matheson previously said it was considering carefully the business case submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
• A PSO, under EU transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for the economic development of the region they serve.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
WRITTEN ANSWER
15 July 2020
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what (a) discussions, (b) consultations, (c) correspondence and (d) meetings it has had with stakeholders in the Caithness and Sutherland area regarding the nature of the services using Wick John O’Groats Airport.

S5W-30261

Michael Matheson: I met with the Caithness Chamber of Commerce on 29 August 2019 to discuss this issue. Since then Transport Scotland officials have met with the Caithness Chamber of Commerce regularly. These meetings have also included representatives from Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited. We have also responded to numerous correspondence during this period from local representatives and other stakeholders.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
WRITTEN ANSWER
15 July 2020
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with (a) Highlands and Islands Enterprise and (b) the UK Government regarding continuing to operate services between Wick John O’Groats and (i) Aberdeen and (ii) Edinburgh Airport.

S5W-30262

Michael Matheson: Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been part of regular meetings between Transport Scotland officials, the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited. We have had no discussions with the UK Government on this issue.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
WRITTEN ANSWER
15 July 2020
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of how uncertainty regarding the future of Wick John O’Groats Airport could impact on the Caithness and Sutherland area.

S5W-30260

Michael Matheson: We have received the report ‘Public Service Obligation Air Services for Wick John O’Groats Airport: Business Case’ from the Caithness Chamber of Commerce which includes an assessment of the impact of the loss of scheduled air services from Wick John O’Groats Airport on the local economy. We have not carried out a separate assessment.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
WRITTEN ANSWER
15 July 2020
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what the timescale would be for introducing a public service obligation for services between Wick John O’Groats and (a) Aberdeen and (b) Edinburgh Airport.

S5W-30259

Michael Matheson: If Public Service Obligations were to be imposed on services between Wick John O’Groats and Aberdeen and Edinburgh it would likely take around 9 to 12 months for services to start due to the regulatory and procurement processes required