Virtual isolation across the Western Isles comes into force from midnight tonight (Sunday 29 March) as island airports move to a new emergency service.

As of tomorrow (Monday) Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd has agreed a skeleton schedule with Transport Scotland and Loganair to provide lifeline, emergency and essential services.  

A HIAL spokesman said: “This will ensure that vital flights, including NHS passenger transfer, the Royal Mail, oil and gas, and any required emergency flights can be accommodated.”

From tomorrow opening hours at Stornoway Airport to accommodate the skeleton schedule will be from 7am to 8.05am six days a week, from 3.15pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and at variable times across lunchtime Monday to Saturday, with a Saturday opening for just 45 minutes between 2.45pm and 3.30pm and a single hour’s opening on Sunday from 2.15pm. Full details are here https://www.hial.co.uk/stornoway-airport/airport-information/

Barra airport is to open for just 75 minutes a day to support a skeleton lifeline service (see https://www.hial.co.uk/barra-airport/airport-information/ for full details).

Benbecula will have a 30-minute morning opening from 8am, six days a week, and a limited but varying timetable through the rest of the day (https://www.hial.co.uk/benbecula-airport/airport-information/).

The HIAL spokesman said: “We also have contingency arrangements in place to accommodate emergency flights outwith these times. We do not know how long these essential measures will remain in place but will update the website with any further changes to opening times.”

Meanwhile CalMac’s emergency timetable has already begun, coming effect on Friday (27 March) instead of the normal summer timetable due to be introduced as the clocks went forward this weekend.

There’s now a single, daily service between Stornoway and Ullapool and a three-day-a-week service between Castlebay and Oban. The service between Tarbert and Uig and between Lochmaddy and Uig has also been greatly reduced.

Introducing the revised timetable last week, a CalMac spokesman said: “The new reduced timetable, which will run for an initial three-week period, comes amidst a lockdown on all but essential travel across the whole of the UK. It will be subject to continual review in a rapidly changing environment, but we believe it is sustainable with current crews.

“All islands will receive a regular lifeline service ensuring essential goods and services are delivered. In the last few days passengers on the entire service were down by 85%, cars by 75% and commercial traffic by 45%. CalMac has also seen 8,000 bookings cancelled, compared to just 300 in the same period last year.”

Other islands around the UK are implementing a ‘closed borders’ policy. The Isle of Man stopped incoming passengers by boat and plane on Thursday last week and the Channel Islands of Sark and Herm have also stopped passenger sailings. Condor ferries to Guernsey and Northlink ferries to Orkney and Shetland are also operating freight-only services.