BUDGET airline easyJet has pledged it is “committed” to serving the Highlands following fears over the future of air links between Inverness and Gatwick.
• Keith Brown has called for Air Passenger Duty to be devolved in Scotland
The concern over flights follows the company’s purchase of rival Flybe’s slots at the London airport.
Flybe currently operates three return flights a day to Gatwick from the Highland capital, with the early morning and late evening flights, beneficial to business travelers and those passengers seeking to connect with long-haul flights.
Highland Council leader Drew Hendry said he had received a “positive” reply from easyJet, who also operate a daytime service to London.
There are fears easyJet will utilise the landing and take-off slots for more profitable routes and Highland Council wrote to the airline last week seeking urgent talks.
Councillor Hendry said: “I greatly appreciate the prompt response from easyJet and I hope to arrange a meeting with Mr Aitken when he is next in Inverness.
“easyJet is Scotland’s largest airline and Mr Aitken has assured me his company is committed to serving Inverness.
“They already carry 200,000 people between Inverness and London each year and I was pleased to note in his reply that the company is committed to maintaining this level of service going forward. This is all very encouraging.”
Councillor Hendry wrote to Carolyn McCall, chief executive of easyJet, on behalf of a range of Highland public agencies and business groups to highlight the crucial importance of regular daily flights between Inverness and Gatwick.
Flybe sold 25 slots at Gatwick to easyjet for £20million last week, citing the Air Passenger Duty and high landing charges as their reasons.
They will continue to fly the Inverness-Gatwick service until next March.
Transport minister Keith Brown has called for the Air Passenger Duty - the cost of which is one of the reasons cited by Flybe for the £20million sale - to be devolved to Scotland.
Mr Brown said: “Myself and other Scottish Ministers have raised the issues of APD and access to London with Danny Alexander and his colleagues in the Treasury repeatedly, warning of the danger both presented to the Scottish economy.
“Perhaps now that Mr Alexander’s own constituency in the Highlands is set to suffer the consequences, these warnings might be taken more seriously.
“The punitive levels of Air Passenger Duty in the UK are cited time and time again by airlines and airports as an obstacle when it comes to securing new routes and indeed maintaining existing routes.
“I have asked Mr Alexander for an urgent update on his department’s current position regarding this issue, an issue of significant and immediate importance to Scotland and indeed to his constituency.
“Responsibility for APD should be passed to Scotland as soon as possible. This was recommended by Calman in 2009 and the UK Government has had ample time to follow through on its initial agreement to do so.
“I am aware that landing charges are primarily a commercial consideration for the airports concerned but we have made it clear to the UK Government that if left up to market forces, Scotland’s access to London will continue to diminish. We have therefore asked that the UK Government looks proactively at how Scotland’s access can be secured, but again, this has not been taken forward.”