01 November 2001

S1M-2142 Inverness Airport

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 1 November 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Inverness Airport

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Members' business today is a debate on motion S1M-2142, in the name of Margaret Ewing, on Inverness airport and links with hub airports.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the huge significance of direct links between Inverness Airport and London hub airports to the economic and social well-being of the Highlands and Islands, particularly in relation to tourism, exports, the business economy and employment; expresses its grave concern at the possible loss of landing slots at Gatwick; seeks not only to have such links preserved but also to have similar slots at Heathrow restored, and believes that the Scottish Executive should pursue these matters vigorously with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the European Commission.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): ... ... ...

I am once again the meat in the sandwich of the Ewing family. I recall an occasion, immediately after a general election in the 1990s, when I was the pilot who was sent to collect Winnie and Margaret from Inverness airport to get them to a press conference in Edinburgh. I enjoyed the experience, but I regretted not being at the party; I had to be sober to fly the plane.

Inverness currently needs a PSO. I regret that. I look forward to the day when Inverness is so successful and vibrant that there will be no question but that the facilities required to operate services to it will automatically be made available commercially, but that is not the case today.

There have been a number of threats to air transport in Scotland over the years. They have not all been the responsibility of Governments—far from it. Some 0.1 per cent or less of the air transport capacity in the United Kingdom is controlled in Scotland. We are therefore entirely peripheral to decision making on that front. Inverness airport has an excellent piece of tarmac and it is located far enough away from the surrounding towns to be environmentally friendly. It has lots of good things going for it, but climate is not one of them.

One of the problems that Inverness suffers from is that it is one of the very few airfields of its capacity that does not have an instrument landing system, or ILS. It suffers an undue degree of diversions, mainly to RAF Kinloss. Channel Express, which operates a nightly freight service to Inverness, flies to RAF Kinloss—not to Inverness airport—to maintain reliability. Lest we think that an ILS is the prerogative of big airfields, the Civil Aviation Authority website shows that Exeter, Dundee, Norwich and Londonderry all have an ILS. Instead of building wonderful new terminal buildings, which are great for the passengers on a transient basis, we should invest the small amount of money that is required to improve the facilities for airlines. The tower was relocated so that the airport terminal building could be rebuilt. The facilities for approaching Inverness are comparable technically to those at Barra. That might surprise members.

The PSO is the subject of the debate today; it is important that we preserve it. I will illustrate what matters. The most extreme airfield into which I have flown—as a passenger in a 100-seat jet—is the airfield at Juliaca, in southern Peru, which is at an altitude of 11,500ft. It is a gravel strip. There is no terminal building; there are just taxis along the edge of the field. The core is providing the facilities to get the aircraft in.

I am very fond of Inverness airport. It was the second airport that I ever flew into. That was on 31 December 1969, when I was returning to celebrate the new year. Let us hope that the people in Inverness can once again celebrate—I will be happy to join them—when they get the PSO that is vital to the airport.


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