Airports in the Highlands and Islands are to close to scheduled flights from Sunday to ensure that lifeline and emergency services can be maintained during the coronavirus pandemic.
Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) said its airports will also be closed to general aviation traffic to ensure that vital services, such as the delivery of medical and other critical supplies, the transport of key workers and emergency flights, can continue.
Hial said it has been working with Transport Scotland and Loganair to agree a skeleton schedule to ensure its airports continue to provide lifeline and essential services, including NHS passenger transfer, Royal Mail and the oil and gas industry.
The company said it is also important that Hial does all it can to limit the spread of infection and protect the health and well-being of its staff.
Loganair said a skeleton schedule of essential air services will operate within Scotland, to and from the Isle of Man and on two routes supporting critical workers in the offshore industry at Aberdeen.
Hial managing director Inglis Lyon said: “Our airports are unique in that their core role is to provide lifeline services for our communities in the Highlands and Islands.
“They are essential to the continued delivery of medical and other critical supplies, the transport of key workers, and also to enable emergency flights for island communities.
“Now more than ever there is a need to safeguard those vital services.
“I appreciate this crisis is unknown territory for all of us and at this time we do not know how long these essential measures will remain in place.
“We could not maintain these services for our communities without the extraordinary team spirit and commitment displayed by our staff right across the Hial group and I am indebted to them for their continued flexibility and dedication during a very difficult time for us all.”
Hial has 11 airports around the country – at Campbeltown, Islay, Tiree, Benbecula, Barra, Stornoway, Kirkwall, Sumburgh, Wick, Inverness and Dundee.
Loganair said it will operate a limited timetable in Scotland with a minimum of six weekly return flights, daily except Saturday, between Aberdeen and Kirkwall, Manchester, Norwich and Sumburgh.
It will run the same schedule between Glasgow and Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Islay, Stornoway and Tiree, while there will also be flights from Kirkwall to Sumburgh, from Stornway to Benbecula and Orkney inter-isles air services.
Dedicated flights operated for Royal Mail and the oil and gas industry will also be maintained, with all other Loganair routes and services suspended from March 30 until at least April 20.
Loganair said it expects to ground approximately half of its 44 aircraft in the coming days and has advised its staff of the probability of furlough under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “The challenges that we’re all facing in everyday life are evolving by the day and we are having to work through a whole host of disparate issues to maintain services for those with a critical need to travel, or indeed the many island communities totally reliant on Loganair to deliver their daily essentials.”
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Our aviation sector is facing an unprecedented challenge in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, so the Scottish Government is working with industry partners to ensure our lifeline air links continue to operate for the remote communities that depend on them.
“These air routes are crucial for the transport of supplies and key workers, as well as providing a vital link when emergency transport to the mainland is required.
“I also wish to thank all the Hial staff for their efforts during this difficult time.”