CAMPAIGNERS are calling air services to Skye from the central belt to be restored after a a 24-year absence.
The move is being driven by group FlySkye which is launching this week in a bid to press for the resumption of flights in order to boost trade on the island.
A study is currently underway by Highland Council, Highland and Islands Enterprise and transport agency Hitrans.
But FlySkye argues that demand from islanders and businesses has already been amply proved.
Speaking in advance of its official launch on Thursday at the the Destination Skye and Lochalsh meeting, Boyd Robertson, Principal of the Gaelic College, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and one of the instigators of the FlySkye campaign, said: “Skye and Lochalsh needs an early resumption of air links to allow our businesses, tourist providers and communities to compete effectively in the modern world.
“The reintroduction of air links would boost economic activity on the island and in Lochalsh and create employment at this time of austerity.
“Sabhal Mòr would benefit greatly from the establishment of air links as it would make our state of the art facilities for seminars, short courses, conferences and other events much more accessible.”
He said the market demand for air services to, and from, Skye had already been amply demonstrated by the last Hitrans report submitted in 2007, which recommended that an airport should be developed in the period from 2013-2017.
He added that there had been several surveys indicating market demand, and the campaign group was of the opinion that “now is the time to execute a business plan to develop services”.
FlySkye is also supported by Shirley Spear, owner of the renowned Three Chimneys restaurant and the recently appointed Ambassador of the Year at the annual Highlands and Islands Tourism award.
She said: “Skye and Lochalsh as a year round tourism and business destination would benefit considerably from establishing air links with the Central Belt, Inverness and Aberdeen.
“There is no question in my mind that the option of extending a flight to any of Scotland’s main airports, onwards with a short hop to Skye, would bring additional visitors to Skye and Lochalsh and make the whole area an easier business destination all-round.”
Ian Blackford who runs a Skye based management consultancy First Seer also supports Fly Skye:
“Air links from Skye would be of considerable advantage for my own business and others in Skye and Lochalsh who have a need to meet with clients in Scotland and beyond. This will make it easier for businesses to be based in the area and create employment opportunities, leading to additional sustainable economic growth.”
An airstrip on the island at Ashaig, which was a base for Loganair until services ceased in 1988, is currently used by emergency services and the military.
Previous surveys, however, have expressed concerns about the viability of extending the runway to carry larger aircraft.
Those behind FlySkye say they recognise that there are potential constraints on the development of Ashaig, but argue that there are a number of short take-off and landing aircraft which, subject to appropriate CAA approval, could be licensed to use the existing runway.
They add that the purchase by the Scottish Government of two Twin Otter aircraft, primarily to be used to serve the Glasgow-Barra route, means that suitable aircraft, with spare capacity, could be available.
The group claim such a development would be a lower cost option than either the extension of the runway at Ashaig or a development elsewhere on the island.
It would, they say, also allow the demand for services from Skye to be fully tested and build the case for a longer-term solution.
FlySkye claim the Hitrans survey from 2007 using figures reviewed in 2004 indicated that annual passenger numbers between Skye and the central belt were likely to be between 18,500 and 27,750 giving a mid-range of 23,000.
A twice daily Twin Otter service, they say, would provide 22,500 seats in line with the mid-range from the Hitrans report.