Passengers 'very much investing' in Aberdeen to Wick flights
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An encouraging rise in passengers using Wick John O'Groats Airport is proof that local people are investing in the Aberdeen route, according to Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner.
He told the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council this week that statistics for December showed a 22.8 per cent year-to-date increase in passenger numbers – the biggest percentage by some distance across the Highlands and Islands Airports Limited network.
Numbers at Wick had gone up from 7051 the previous year to 8657, with a forecast annual total for 2023/24 of 11,093.
The Wick/Aberdeen link is operated through a public service obligation (PSO) contract with Eastern Airways.
The PSO is set to be in place for three years, having started in April 2022, funded by Transport Scotland (£1 million a year) and Highland Council (£300,000 a year).
It was secured after campaigning led by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
Last month, at an online meeting with chamber representatives, Scotland's transport minister Fiona Hyslop was urged to support a continuation of the PSO. This followed concerns by MSPs that the airport's future could be in doubt without subsidised services.
Councillor Bremner, who represents the Wick and East Caithness ward on Highland Council, is chairman of Wick John O’Groats Airport Consultative Committee.
He told community councillors on Monday: "I'm really keen that we secure the money for the PSO going forward."
Pointing to the positive trend on passenger numbers, he added: "I think that is proof that people are very much investing in it. The only way we're going to keep that going is for the government and for the council to continue their investment and for Eastern Airways to provide the service that's required for the passengers."
Caithness had been left without scheduled flights after the loss of the Wick/Edinburgh and Wick/Aberdeen routes in 2020.
In December, Highlands and Islands MSPs Rhoda Grant (Labour) and Edward Mountain (Conservative) met Ms Hyslop to make the case for continuing the Wick/Aberdeen PSO.
It had emerged that the decision to continue backing the flights would be taken in the context of a Scottish Government budget that is under “significant pressure”.
The MSPs argued that passenger numbers are rising and that demand for the service is growing, despite figures showing that passenger numbers had earlier fallen below expected levels. The pair also pointed out how important the airport is for health provision, tourism, Sutherland Spaceport, Scrabster harbour, offshore wind and other local business activity.
Mrs Grant said at the time: “The reality is that Caithness can almost become an island with rail and roads being poor and often inaccessible in bad weather.
“Thus I believe it is vital that this service continues post-March 2024 for health provision, business provision and tourism."
Mr Mountain said: “Whilst understanding that finances are stretched, I pointed out that this really is a lifeline service."