THE lifeline air service to one of Scotland’s most remote island communities could be suspended for up to four months because of the deteriorating condition of the isle’s waterlogged airstrip.
Shetland Islands Council today announced that the local authority had been forced to suspend air services to the island of Papa Stour until conditions improve.
A council spokeswoman said: “Due to the condition of the surface of the Papa Stour airstrip, resulting from prolonged periods of very wet weather, the council has had to suspend air services to the island until conditions improve.
“It is anticipated that it could be well through April before services can be resumed unless there is a sufficient period of dry weather that improves the surface condition.”
She continued: “The use of the air service has been steady in recent months and to maintain an adequate transport link, the council’s Transport Planning Service has reworked budgets to enable an additional ferry run to be introduced on Saturdays to give an additional day return each week.
“This essentially means that the summer timetable for Papa Stour will be brought forward with immediate effect. This is a temporary measure, to compensate for the loss of the island’s air service.”
Michael Craigie the council’s Executive Manager of Transport Planning:, said: “The airstrip on Papa Stour is constructed of mortar with a high clay content, and on inspection early in January it was found to be waterlogged in parts, making it temporarily unusable for the Islander aircraft.
“The surface needs to dry out before maintenance can take place. We’ve been in consultation with the community on this matter and they have been very understanding and helpful while we put in place the temporary alternative to the air service and we thank them for their patience.”
The name Papa Stour is believed to have been given to the island by the Vikings. “Papey Stjora” is a Norse phrase that means “big island of priests” and is understood to refer to the fact it was home to a community of Celtic missionaries in the 6th century.
In the 19th century, the island supported a population of 360, due to the opening of a busy fishing station at West Voe. But by 1940, only 100 remained, receiving help through government war grants, and by 1970, the population had fallen to a mere 16.
The island was saved after one of the islanders placed an advertisement in the national press, leading to an influx of “hippies”, who worked the land, rebuilt derelict houses and helped the local school to reopen. The community then prospered for 20 years, but it still has no shop, no pub and no community hall.
The flights to Papa Stour normally operate every Tuesday from Tingwall airport to the island from February to October. An “economy” return flight costs £63 while island residents are charged £25.50 for an adult return ticket. A ticket for children under eleven costs £15.