Inter-island air services are a critical party of Scotland’s transport network and must be restored, said Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil this week.
He is calling for the budget for inter-island flights to be returned to the Scottish Government to safeguard future services for island communities.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have appointed consultants, at a cost of over £10,000, to look at whether they should reinstate the Stornoway to Benbecula air service to five days a week, a service which they cut to three days as part of a cost cutting exercise in 2013.
Taking part in the consultation this week, Mr MacNeil said not only should the Stornoway-Benbecula service be extended from three days to five as it was pre-2013, but that the link between Benbecula and Barra should also be resumed.
He said: “Inter-island air services are a critical part of Scotland’s transport network. They should not be left to the vagaries of a council who were trusted to run the service who then pocketed that cash with no respect to their own outlying communities, especially against a backdrop of the Scottish Government improving both ferry and air services to the Hebrides over the same period.
“The Comhairle cut this service to save money and made no effort to mitigate this vandalism of the transport service. Those having to travel through the islands for hospital appointments, for study etc now face a long and disconnected journey where bus and ferry services do not flow.
“Due to the lack of inter-island flights, the fact is that on some days it is currently faster to get to Edinburgh, London or Brussels than from one end of the Hebrides to the other.”
He added: “ Given that ferry services have improved over the last few years, with fare reductions through RET; better routes such as the direct services between Barra and Oban and introduction of Lochboisdale-Mallaig service; more capacity through new vessels such as MV Loch Seaforth; and also better air services from Barra to Glasgow which have increased from 6 to 13 flights a week – inter-island air services would also be better off under control of the Scottish Government.
“The Comhairle should not be left with control of the money for inter-island air services which they have raided and pockled, money that is there to connect Benbecula with the main administrative centre in Stornoway and as an extension of that to connect Barra. It has not been used for either of those things for the last three years.
“And even if after spending thousands of pounds on a consultation to consider whether the brutal cut to flight services in 2013 was an error and flights are reinstated, there can be no assurance that the council will not decide to cut them again. That’s why I am of the view that the service would be more secure if the budget was returned to the Scottish Government.”