A STUDY into a proposed air service between Skye and the Central Belt has found strong support among islanders.
However, the case is likely to take some time to come to fruition after Transport Minister Derek Mackay told Holyrood’s infrastructure and capital investment committee today: “We have a long way to go before we commit to a new operational airport.”
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), on behalf of the Skye Air Service Working Group, commissioned ekosgen to carry out the research which explores the benefits an air service could bring to local businesses and communities.
Almost 200 businesses, social enterprises and community organisations submitted their views in an online survey.
Evidence of economic benefits from existing small regional airports in Scotland, Ireland and England was also gathered.
Building on the 2013 Skye Air Services Feasibility Study which established clear demand for an air service, this new report concludes that the proposed air service would address some of the constraints facing businesses and residents as a result of the length of current travel options between the Skye area and Central Belt.
Apart from shorter journey times, an air service would reduce the need for overnight stays and improve access to onward connections at Glasgow Airport to key destinations such as London and Birmingham.
The report shows that some 85% of businesses in the Skye area currently travel regularly to the Central Belt, and anticipate a wide range of benefits from an air service.
A total of 94% of those who took part in the survey envisage positive effects in terms of access to markets, customers and clients and 88% anticipate better business opportunities.
Seventy-four percent anticipate they would use an air service at least quarterly, and many would use the air service for onward air connections. More than half of those surveyed currently trade outside Scotland.
According to the report, the introduction of an air service would immediately improve business confidence and ability to network and develop new trade, leading over time to increased sales, investment and growth.
In particular this would benefit the growing creative industries and professional services sectors, with tourism also gaining from an increase in short-break visitors outside the peak summer season.
Social and community benefits include a reduction in real and perceived remoteness from the Central Belt, with improved options for travel for personal, health and leisure reasons, and access to Skye for healthcare professionals providing secondary and tertiary care.
Overall, the evidence gathered through the latest research supports the findings of the 2013 study.
HIE’s Stuart MacPherson, said: “Air services to and from small rural airports play a key role in supporting economic and community growth.
“The report provides important evidence to support the case that re-introducing Skye air services would contribute to Scotland’s Economic Strategy by supporting greater levels of internationalisation, investment, innovation, and inclusive growth.
“The report concludes that a re-introduced air service would bring significant economic and social benefits to Skye and surrounding areas, and would help to address some of the major constraints identified by the area’s businesses.
“This evidence will now be used to inform the overall business case for the reintroduction of an air service to Skye which is being developed by a working group consisting of HIE, HITRANS and Highland Council.”
Highland Councillor for Eilean a’ Cheò, Drew Millar, said: “The Council is working with HIE and HITRANS to press the case for improved air links to and from the Highlands.
“This study confirms the view of existing businesses on Skye and many others that an air service would enable improved connectivity and greater access to markets, overseas customers and the overall economic well-being of this fragile part of Scotland.
“A case study for Donegal Airport highlights the important economic assets of Gaelic and Creative Industries.
“This is very much the same for Skye and the surrounding area. Further work is being undertaken in collaboration with HIE and Hitrans in respect of the scope of the infrastructure at the aerodrome with the intention of presenting an updated Business Case to the Scottish Government.”