VITAL air links connecting the Highlands and London have been secured with a pledge by EasyJet to continue the service once Flybe pulls out next year.
• easyjet to run two flights a day from Inverness to London
• An early morning departure and an evening return flight will operate from the Highland airport
Business leaders and politicians in the Highlands have welcomed the five-year deal, agreed between the budget airline and Inverness airport.
There had been fears for the future of the connection after Flybe sold its 25 landing and take-off slots at Gatwick to its rivals in a £20 million deal.
But EasyJet has alleviated the concerns it would replace the Inverness link with more profitable routes to tourist destinations abroad by announcing it will increase capacity for Gatwick by almost 30 per cent.
The new flights take off next spring when Flybe officially ends its service and will see the airline maintain an early morning departure to Gatwick and an evening return from the London airport.
Hugh Aitken, EasyJet’s head of Scotland, said: “This deal demonstrates EasyJet’s commitment to Inverness and the Highlands.
“The new early flight will allow business travellers to reach London in time for meetings while the evening departure from London enables them to travel home on the same day. The additional seats will also help boost tourism to the Highlands.”
Fraser Grieve, Highlands and Islands manager of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), praised those who campaigned to fight for air connections to and from
He said: “The announcement is a welcome commitment by EasyJet and shows that they have listened to the strong case made by SCDI and others over the importance of an early morning and evening flight.
“SCDI will continue to make the case for action to be taken to ensure that access to
London’s major airports is protected going forward and will provide as much support as possible to make these new services a success.”
Over the last two decades, Inverness has suffered from a loss of access to Heathrow, which was a blow for many in the business community throughout the Highlands and Islands and increased reliance on the Gatwick link.
The latest threat, however, has been avoided now EasyJet has entered into the new deal.
Highland Council leader Drew Hendry said: “I know that a key factor in EasyJet’s decision was the very clear message and evidence of growth of the Highland economy and the opportunities this presents to them in developing the service to London.
“I am sure EasyJet were also impressed by the united front presented by public agencies and the business community in highlighting the critical importance to our future wellbeing of the Inverness – London air service.
“It is great to see all the hard work put in by everyone paying such a rich dividend.
“At the council, we look forward to working with EasyJet and Highlands and Islands Airports and all our other partners in growing air services out of Inverness.”
Highland MP Danny Alexander described the campaign as “a triumph for everyone who has worked so hard to save these flights”.