Axing of lifeline air services met with islanders’ anger

Anger is growing over a council’s handling of a lifeline air service contract as fragile island communities face flights being grounded from May to October.

Campbeltown Airport. Picture: Allan Milligan
Campbeltown Airport. Picture: Allan Milligan

Argyll and Bute Council has put the Oban to Colonsay, Coll and Tiree route out to tender again after the only bid, first time round, exceeded a £512,000 ceiling it set for the new contract.

And as the new offer is lower than the current contract price – and fails to meet current operator Hebridean Air Services original tender bid - a cut in service is on the cards.

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Islanders are also reeling at the news that the start date for the new contract is 16 October.

While Tiree has a separate air link with Glasgow, remote Colonsay and Coll look set to be left without any flights to the mainland for five months, once the current contract with Hebridean ends on 15 May.

Argyll MSP Michael Russell said islanders are angry at the way the council is acting. He said: “I discussed this with the council chief executive officer last week and expressed my strong concern that there could be a considerable hiatus in provision, and over the summer period when the flights are busiest.

“I have also been in touch with the existing contractor who has confirmed that the tender price will, even if it gets a bidder who can comply, result in a substantially reduced service.

“The communities on the islands affected are very angry at the way the council is behaving and I would urge them to secure a temporary service at the previous level immediately and then to enter into sensible negotiations about what it actually costs to secure this lifeline, rather than plucking a figure out of the air and trying to force companies to match it. That is the wrong way to support fragile communities.”

Martin McWilliam, PSO (Public Service Obligation) Contract Manager for Hebirdean Air Services, said: “They put it back out to tender and the closing date for submission is 2 May. It’s exactly the same amount as it was before so we have to cobble together some sort of timetable that fits their offer of £512,000.

“A new contract would start on 16 October, we are talking to the council about trying to help them out, about trying to bridge the gap between May and October.”

However, with the legalities of devising a temporary cover arrangement still under discussion Mr McWilliam said: “We are patiently waiting for what they want to do.”