Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I wish now to speak particularly in favour of section A of the motion about Highlands & Islands airports.Currently we subsidise these airports by 2/3rds of their operating costs & have done so for years with no disapproval from the EU. The rest is raised from landing charges. Unfortunately traffic at these airports is so small that the landing charges per person are nonetheless prohibitive. I checked recently & found that a flight to Barra would cost £27 but it would cost £33 to land.Much of the cost of these airports is because they have the same regulatory framework as larger airports. For example approximately 20% of running costs are for security. This, for example means £16.62 is spent per head on keeping bin Laden out of Tiree. Equally each airport is required to keep its own fire brigade. Firemen at Heathrow expect to go through their entire working lives without having to attend a fire – nonetheless when dealing with 30,000 people a day this is a necessary cost. I would argue that it is not when dealing with 5,000 people a year. There are other ways to save expense such as putting the management out to tender & putting runway maintenance in the lands of local authority roads depts. If we could reduce running expenses by 1/3rd these airports could be run with no landing charges at allThe Scottish Parliament has authority over this regulatory regime. The whole point about devolution is that from a nearer perspective it is possible to produce solutions which would not be apparent from London. This is a clear example & we should use it.High landing charges are the main thing detering low cost airlines. In the example I gave earlier the total cost was £60. Were there to be no landing charges it would be £27. Were a no frills airline involved I expect it would roughly halve & were the number of passengers to skyrocket, as seems likely it could halve again. Here we get to the point where, assuming a monorail connection to Glasgow as I suggested earlier, it would be possible to get to Barra from Glasgow for roughly the price it now takes to get a taxi to Glasgow airport.2/3rds of Highland Air passengers are tourists who, quite reasonably, complain about the fact that it is more expensive than flying to Paris. The benefits to the Highlands & Islands & to our share of the world's fastest growing industry, tourism, of making travel accessible can hardly be underestimated. Certainly Barra can never hope to match the attractions of Eurodisney but we should not be so modest as to forget that, for a significant portion of the populations of Europe & America, Eurodisney can never hope to match the attractions of Barra.Consequently I ask you to support the motion & I hope our party in government will make use of such a mandate.

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