‘Secret’ plans for new flights ‘up in the air’
Operator plans Glasgow and Edinburgh routes
A NEW airline is drawing up ambitious plans to reinstate passenger flights between Inverness and the central belt, it can be revealed.
The Press and Journal has learned the proposal is being considered by Thistle Airways, a new venture due to be launched later this year.
It is understood the firm applied to Highland Council’s enterprise arm for a £250,000 start-up grant, but the local authority said last night the details were “totally commercially confidential”.
The move to reintroduce central belt flights was hailed as “very welcome”, but one economist doubted that there would be sufficient demand.
Flights between Inverness and the central belt could soon be resurrected under ambitious plans being drawn up by a new airline.
The idea for the new service is being explored by Thistle Airways, an operator which is due to be launched later this year by north and north-east-based pilots and aviation experts.
The Press and Journal understands the firm is proposing to fly twin-turboprop ATR 42 aircraft on routes between the Highland capital and Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Minutes from a recent meeting of the board of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) reveal that Highland Council’s enterprise arm, Highland Opportunity Investment considered investing £250,000 in Thistle Airways as it develops the proposal.
However, it is not known whether the funding has been agreed, with a local authority spokeswoman describing it as “totally commercially confidential”.
Passenger services operated between Inverness Airport and the central belt a decade ago but were axed due to lack of demand.
Thistle Airways is being set-up by directors Christopher Butler-Madden, an aviation consultant, and airline captain Brett Holden, with both registered to an address near Strathpeffer.
The firm did not respond to the Press and Journal’s requests for comment on the plans, which were disclosed in a minute of the most recent meeting of HIAL’s board.
A HIAL spokesman said: “We receive regular inquiries from airlines and passengers regarding the potential for routes to and from our airports and we are always interested in services that can improve connectivity and deliver sustainable growth in the Highlands and Islands.”
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol had been aware of the proposal by Thistle Airways.
He said: “It would be very welcome. It would have a significant impact on business in the Highlands, very positive.”
However, local economist Tony Mackay, of Mackay Consultants, doubted that services to the central belt would be viable.
“My initial reaction is I’m very surprised and very sceptical.
“What happened before was that there was just insufficient demand,” said Mr Mackay.
“When the A9 is dualled that’s going to reduce the travel time to the central belt.
“And I think a lot of people still prefer to go by road or train.
“I think that the demand is less than a few years ago, and I also think that one of the reasons for flying to Glasgow or Edinburgh was good connections to elsewhere.
“But the number of connections to Inverness have increased.
It would have a significant impact on business in the Highlands
BELT UP? Flights could be taking off from Inverness for the central belt
ROUTES: Thistle Airways, due to launch later this year, could resurrect flights from Inverness to Glasgow and Edinburgh by ATR 42 aircraft