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Nicky Marr: Reliable transport links are vital for the Highlands

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr, Inverness Airport
Nicky Marr, Inverness Airport

I CAN’T remember how many times I have flown to and from Inverness Airport. That wee regional hub of ours is a fantastic resource. It’s got me to Stornoway and Kirkwall, Belfast and Birmingham, Manchester, Amsterdam and London, for work and for pleasure, more often than this failing environmentalist is comfortable with.

From Manchester, Amsterdam and London I’ve caught connecting flights all over the world, and usually – I shouldn’t tempt fate – I’ve been lucky. Granted, my baggage has rarely caught the same flight when I’ve connected through Schiphol, and I’ve suffered the odd delay or cancellation, but I’ve only ever missed one work commitment, and that was when the airport was closed for snow. Not bad in over 20 years.

But with recent flight cancellations and delays, I’m beginning to look on our local airport with the same cynicism as I do our train station. I’ve bought a ticket to travel, but will I ever get there?

We’ve booked London flights for a weekend away next month, and I’m now worried. A 7am departure should be ample time for an afternoon West End Show, but I’m already anticipating a late arrival. Or – literally – no-show.

If Rag’n’Bone Man’s band couldn’t get to Inverness for a Sunday concert when their Saturday flights were cancelled, will we make it to the ABBA Arena for our second show of the day at 7.45pm?

As I write, it’s Monday morning, and I’m scanning Inverness Airport’s online departures board. Of the first eight flights due to depart this morning, not one left on time. The longest delay – Loganair’s 6.40am to Manchester – left over three hours late.

Doubtless there will be passengers on that Manchester flight who will have missed onward connections, perhaps for summer holidays. If they didn’t buy ‘through’ tickets, they may find themselves high and dry as far as their subsequent flights are concerned – hardly the best start to a break in the sun.

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Inverness Airport’s 7am to Stornoway and the 9.30am for Kirkwall are still – at 11.30am – showing as ‘go to departures’. I hope the coffee is good and plentiful.

Flight delays and cancellations are becoming ever-more frequent, and that’s not just my perception.

Last week, the cross-party group of MPs of the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee wrote to Scottish airports, and to British Airways and easyJet too setting out their concerns about the impact of “persistent issues with flights between Scotland and London”.

The committee underlined that: “Strong connectivity between Scotland and London is not only vital for the Scottish economy, but also necessary for those in Scotland to travel on to destinations all over the world,” asking also “why flights have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, with prices stubbornly high and fewer scheduled flights at every airport.”

We know, those of us who live and work here, how vital good connectivity is to our economy and wellbeing. We cannot properly achieve our regional potential without regular, reliable, affordable transport links, whether by air, rail, ferry, or road.

We know the dangers of travelling on the A9 and A96, the sky-high ticket prices and the ad hoc nature of our ScotRail services are well rehearsed, ferries are an under-resourced disaster, and now our flights are letting us down too. How can we – or anyone who wants to come here – plan for business, or holidays, without a single reliable method of transport?

Clearly, Inverness Airport isn’t the only airport impacted by flight delays, but I’d argue that our geography, and the lack of alternatives, makes a greater impact than will be felt elsewhere.

Come on airlines, step up. We need you. And never forget – you need us too.

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