TWO new aeroplanes have been ordered to serve the lifeline air service to Barra, Tiree and Campbeltown.
The Twin Otter aircraft have been specially selected as they are able to land on Barra, the world’s only scheduled service with a landing strip on a beach.
The contract to supply the new planes to link the islands with Glasgow has been awarded to Canadian company Viking Air Limited.
The route is officially designated as a public service obligation (PSO) and would not be commercially viable without support from the Scottish Government.
The new planes were expected to have been operating by April last year. However, the process of purchasing them has taken longer than expected, mainly due to the massive order backlog of the Canadian firm, the only manufacturer of modern Twin Otter aircraft.
The government announced two years ago that it planned to buy two new replacements for the existing Twin Otter aircraft - owned and operated by Loganair and whose contract to serve the lifeline route comes up for renewal next year.
Transport Minister Keith Brown said he was “delighted” that a supplier had been secured.
He added: “The tender from Viking Air Limited offered the best value for taxpayers’ money, as well as meeting all the requirements in terms of quality and delivery time.
“We expect to take delivery of the new planes next May and for them to be up and running on the routes shortly afterwards.
“Some of our remotest communities rely on these services to keep them connected. The flights transport people, goods and services, playing a crucial role for service industries, fisheries and agriculture. Direct air links also enable visitors to reach the islands easily, boosting local tourism.”
He added: “By purchasing our own aircraft, we will also encourage more competition when the contract for operating the PSO routes comes up for renewal.
“We will be looking at ways to enhance these services and will engage with passengers, local businesses and other interested parties to look at potential improvements.
“These new planes mean our PSO routes to Campbeltown, Barra and Tiree will continue to be reliable and attractive to travellers. The communities served by these flights can now look forward to seeing new planes operating on the routes next summer.”
Viking Air Limited will provide the two Twin Otter DHC6-400 aircraft. No figure for the contract has yet been disclosed, but the tender was between £5 million and £7 million.
Inglis Lyon, Managing Director of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited, added:”The launch of this tender is an important milestone in the process of delivering new aircraft for the communities of Barra, Campbeltown and Tiree, areas which depend hugely on air connectivity.
“These lifeline routes provide a vital social and economic lifeline and these new aircraft will ensure that businesses, local residents and visitors remain well connected.
“With new aircraft operating on these routes, passengers will also enjoy an enhanced customer experience. I am confident that this investment by the Scottish Government will pay dividends for local communities and ensure that these air services continue to thrive for many years to come.”
Subsidy has been paid by the Scottish Government on the Glasgow-Tiree and Glasgow-Barra route since the mid-1970s.