‘Se­cret’ plans for new flights ‘up in the air’

Op­er­a­tor plans Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh routes

The Press and Journal (Inverness) - - FRONT PAGE - BY CALUM ROSS

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

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