29 May 2002

S1M-3154 Air Links

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): We have two debates this afternoon, the first of which is on Scotland's air links.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I begin by picking up on a point that Lewis Macdonald made. I am sure that members and people in the visitors gallery will be pleased with what I have to say. Next week, as part of my investigations into the prison estates review, I shall visit a prison in France. I shall not be flying from Aberdeen with my assistant, because the airfare would be £958. Instead, I shall drive to Prestwick—that takes extra time, but it is a trade-off that is worth making—from where the flight costs £180.

Before Phil Gallie gets too complacent, I remind him that it was a Tory Government in the 1970s that, at the express request of BOAC, removed the fifth freedom flights from KLM, SAS, Pan Am and TWA. That denied those companies to pick up passengers at Prestwick on their en route flights to countries in Scandinavia. Does he recall that it was a Tory Government that did that?

Phil Gallie: I am too young to remember it.

Stewart Stevenson: I will accept that.

Model 737-200s burn 50 per cent more fuel than 737-800s. We need the facility to support economical aircraft. Incidentally, in Scotland we are denied the most effective route into Luton and Stansted because of military traffic that uses the east coast of England—there is limited capacity for southbound traffic and none for northbound traffic. If we had an airway down there, we would save between 600kg and 1,000kg of fuel per 737 flight—I point that out for Robin Harper's benefit.

We talked about equality of access across Scotland, about which Mr Morrison made a point. Is not it curious that the Labour Government has continued with the practice of charging 90p per litre for the inter-island flights in the Orkneys and Shetlands? Fuel for a flight out of Aberdeen is priced at 20p per litre. What is the difference? The difference is tax, pure and simple, not the cost of the fuel. Many of the things that discriminate against aviation in our remote communities are avoidable.

David Mundell challenged the SNP on what would be different about aviation if Scotland was an independent country. He did not let me intervene during his speech, so I will ask my question now, so that he can ponder it and tell me the answer later. Is there an independent country anywhere in the developed world that has fewer airline seats owned and operated by local airlines per head of population than Scotland does? The answer is no. We have 20 per cent of the number of seats that the country above us in the list has. That is one thing that independence would change.

I say to Rhoda Grant that I pay tribute to Total Logistic Concepts Ltd, which runs Oban airport. Oban airport has the facilities to run scheduled services and in the past it provided services to Glasgow and Mull.

That brings into sharp focus the fact that we get fixated with terminal buildings. We have built a wonderful new terminal building at Inverness. That is fine. However, we did not install an instrument landing system that would bring the cloud base at which aircraft could make an approach down from 500ft to 200ft. The aircraft are equipped and the traffic controllers are ready to operate. We are getting the £500,000 for that landing system at last. That is more important to airlines than anything else. When I was a tourist in South Africa, I flew by jet into an airfield that had no terminal building. Terminal buildings are not the problem.

It is true that resources are finite in this business. However, we have differential landing charges. It costs £1,500 to put a 737 on the tarmac at Inverness airport, whereas it costs less than £1,000 at the London airports. Airlines will therefore make choices. That is why we are putting broadband into the Highlands and Islands so that people are not turned away. That is also why we should support lower landing charges.


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