Senior officials from the Department for Transport (DfT) left a meeting of key Highlands and Islands stakeholders in Inverness on Friday (15 March) with the very clear message that improved and guaranteed air connectivity is critical to the future economy of the region, say the event's organisers
The DfT delegation were in the Highlands seeking comments on a 200-page Green Paper which has been published by the UK Government outlining proposals for a new aviation strategy to 2050 and beyond, with a deadline for responses of 22 June.
HITRANS, the regional transport partnership for the Highlands and Islands, Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) hosted the event at Eden Court, Inverness to develop their collective response to the consultation.
Meeting chairman Councillor Allan Henderson, who also chairs HITRANS, said: “This has been a hugely worthwhile engagement event. Delegates have a better understanding of how the Government wants to keep the UK at the forefront of global aviation and I am very grateful to stakeholders in our remote and diverse region for underlining the crucial importance of air connectivity to our future prosperity. I have no doubt our voice has been heard and will be reflected in the Government’s future thinking on aviation policy and investment.”
A number of speakers highlighted the growing numbers of visitors to the Highlands due to improved access to international hub airports, such as London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol.
Graeme Bell, General Manager of HIAL, Inverness Airport, said: “We welcomed the opportunity to highlight the challenges faced by HIAL in maintaining links with the UK and international markets.
“We are pleased the importance of the role HIAL play in Scotland’s transport network, providing essential lifeline services for our communities, is understood and appreciated by our colleagues in the Department for Transport. As the consultation continues, we will continue to work with our partner organisations to ensure the importance of connectivity for the Highlands, Islands and Dundee is reflected in the aviation strategy.”
Carroll Buxton, regional development director with HIE, said: “Transport connectivity is a key driver in regional development. It helps attract inward investment and the growth in local businesses, and it helps strengthen resilience in rural communities. The network of airports across the region is a crucial part of this connectivity. The Green Paper is a great opportunity for us to consolidate and enhance air travel options, between different parts of the region and between the region and the rest of the UK and beyond. We very much welcome the opportunity to meet with Department for Transport officials and discuss our collective response.”
Fraser Grieve, SCDI Director for the Highlands, said: “Air connectivity is so important to the economy of our region and this is the strong message that rings out from businesses throughout the region. We are attracting more and more visitors to our area and greatly boosting our exports – and much of this prosperity is due to improved air connectivity. We are punching above our weight and guaranteed connections to international hub airports will allow us to continue to thrive.”
Other key objectives of stakeholders are:
- maintaining and improving regional air links with the rest of the UK and Ireland, and understanding and quantifying the value of these;
- safeguarding and developing intra-regional routes and routes to other parts of Scotland;
- appropriate measurable criteria for Government policy, against which changes in the region’s connectivity can be tracked, protected and enhanced; and
- keeping the region at the forefront in developing and implementing technologies to support the decarbonisation of aviation