06 October 2015

S4M-14448 Island Communities

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14448, in the name of Derek Mackay, on empowering Scotland’s island communities.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests: I am president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport—public transport is a subject that I expect to cover in my speech.

I was thinking about when I first went to an island. It appears to have been at Easter 1965, when I first went to Skye. It has been my very great pleasure to have visited islands all around Scotland.

We have talked a good deal about aviation. I have, so far, flown into 13 island airports. I flew the plane on four of those occasions; the other times I was flown commercially.

The islands are part of my and my family’s heritage. My grandfather was appointed as a schoolmaster in Lewis in the 1880s. He was an Anglophone Scot who was married to an English lady. It was not the most obvious appointment in what was a wholly Gaelic-speaking community, but that is precisely part of the disrespect that was shown to island traditions. Abolition of Gaelic was almost public policy in those days, and I regret that my grandfather played a little role in that.

Mike Russell may have missed a little trick. We are talking about islands and island authorities, but parts of mainland Scotland are almost islands in terms of their accessibility. I am particularly thinking of the Mull of Kintyre. By contrast, one could almost suggest that Skye is no longer an island, now that it is connected to the mainland, but let us pass on that issue.

I know that Dave Thompson is going to talk about air services to Skye in his speech, so I will talk a little bit about how we could change the regulatory regime to make air services cheaper, easier and more pervasive. First—I pursued this matter as a minister, but without much success—we require commercial flights in the UK to be operated by twin-engine aircraft. That is not the case in Finland, France, Greece, Spain or Norway, where single-engine aircraft can operate many of the thin routes, which reduces costs and increases frequency.

When Lord King was asked why he flew in a 747 whenever he could, he said, “Because it’s got four engines and they don’t make any six-engine planes.” What is the reliability and accident record of single-engine compared with multi-engine planes? Interestingly, the accident rate in the United States for single-engine turboprop planes is 1.99 per 100,000 flight hours, but for twin-engine planes it is 2.37 per 100,000 flight hours. In other words, it is 15 per cent higher for planes with more than one engine. Why? It is because flying a multi-engine plane with one engine not working is more complex than dealing with total failure of the engine of a single-engine plane. Fatalities are similarly greater in multi-engine light aircraft than they are in single-engine light aircraft. We should look at others’ experience and continue to lobby the Civil Aviation Authority and the UK Government.

Secondly, we should consider whether we have the right approach mechanisms. This is a technical issue, but it matters. We are talking about the reliability of air services in Scotland, so the weather has quite a lot to do with things. I was reading an incident report about a Loganair flight that had been severely affected by icing and in which there had been no injuries—indeed, the passengers may not have even been aware of the incident. Fog and low cloud are issues at our airports. In the UK we have, as far as I am aware, one airport that is using modern global positioning system technology to allow aircraft to make their approach—that airport happens to be Shoreham airport.

The United States now has 1,800 airports at which pilots can make their approach in single-engine aircraft using GPS. For example, the pilots’ chart for Provo in Utah shows that they can descend using GPS through a cloud base of 200ft, but for Wick in Scotland, which does not have that facility, we are talking about a higher cloud base of 366ft.

Of course, GPS is also very cheap. An instrument landing system costs £1 million, but putting in GPS costs the airport almost nothing and costs the operators only quite modest amounts. It is time that the CAA and others allowed matters to move on so that we can simultaneously reduce costs and improve reliability. I know that such improvements are not necessarily in the gift of the minister, except in so far as he can lobby others elsewhere, including European authorities, and not only UK authorities.

I will close by touching on something that has not yet come up in the debate, which is universal services for the islands—in particular, for delivery and collection of goods. Too many of our island communities and relatively remote mainland communities are disadvantaged by excess delivery charges by commercial operators. It is high time that that was tackled by legislation, if necessary and possible, but certainly by exposing the rip-off merchants for what they are and by seeking to persuade them that equity is required if we are going to support people in all the islands, but particularly in the three islands council communities of the Western Isles, the Orkneys and the Shetlands. They have a range of problems, but also a range of opportunities.


Stewart Stevenson
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fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

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