New talks as Holyrood steps in over island flights

Passengers prepare to board a plane for a flight from Tiree airport. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Passengers prepare to board a plane for a flight from Tiree airport. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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LIFELINE air services to Coll, ­Colonsay and Tiree look to have been saved after the ­Scottish Government intervened to ­hammer out a deal between the council and the operating ­airline.

Negotiations between ­Hebridean Air Services Ltd (HASL) – which provides flights from Oban Airport – and ­Argyll and Bute Council over public service obligation routes broke down and the airline announced that it would be suspending flights from 16 May, much to the dismay of island residents.

The council, which currently provides a subsidy of more than £2 million for the vital air services over a three-year contract period, had described HASL’s demands as “unacceptable”.

The authority said it was left with no choice but to re-tender despite only receiving interest from HASL to deliver the flights.

It is understood that HASL ­requested an additional £43,000 to operate the services to fly commercial passengers to the islands, while also providing “scholar” flights, which allow pupils at Oban High School to return home at weekends.

However, following appeals to the Scottish Government, the deadlock now seems to have been broken. A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: “Officials have ­spoken with both Argyll and Bute Council and Hebridean Air Services.

“We understand both parties have reached satisfactory compromises on a number of points but have not yet reached a final agreement.

“We understand Argyll and Bute Council are still exploring options which would avoid any break in services.

“Both parties recognise the lifeline nature of these services and we hope they can reach an agreement shortly.”

Councillor Roddy McCuish, chairman of the Oban, Lorn and the Isles area committee, ­welcomed the news.

He said: “Following reassurances from Hebridean Air Services over the weekend we now have the comfort that its ­commitment to providing these services is equal to ours.

“A meeting is being arranged at the earliest possible opportunity, hopefully this week, to allow negotiations to continue.

“We are hopeful that a ­positive resolution can be reached and we can achieve the outcome that everyone wants – a continuation of the lifeline air services.”