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Following a discussion at the Scottish transport forum, I assigned Highlands and Islands Airports Limited the task of considering what air services in the Highlands and Islands could and should look like in the future. HIAL will shortly carry out a consultation seeking views on what the strategy should be over the coming period.
I thank the minister for that reply and acknowledge the general surprise from the members on that side.
Given the level of dependence of the island routes on a single operator and the effect that that has on competition, can the minister say whether he has had any discussions with any other potential providers of services on the routes, and whether he agrees, in principle, that competition would have a benefit with regard to the level of service provided?
Jamie Halcro Johnston will know that Flybe entered that market in direct competition to Loganair. When it did so, the market share of people using air services increased, although there is no doubt that that had an impact on Loganair. Of course, Flybe eventually ended up pulling out.
From the perspective of the Scottish Government, the more connections and air services there are to our islands, the better. Therefore, if there is an approach—through Jamie Halcro Johnston or from an operator—I will consider it with an open mind. The main point is that sustainability of air services to and connectivity in our islands is foremost in my mind.
With regard to internal air services in Orkney, the minister might be aware of capacity issues on what are lifeline services for those small island communities. Will he commit to engaging with Orkney Islands Council about how that situation might be addressed as part of the overall discussions around lifeline air and ferry connections between the small isles in Orkney?
I do not know whether that is the opening salvo of another round of budget negotiations from Liberal Democrat members—at least, they were formerly members of the Liberal Democrats—who voted for the Scottish Government budget in support of internal ferry services.
I will take up that discussion in my next conversation with Orkney Islands Council.
Although Liam McArthur laughed and scoffed, it is worth noting that, yesterday or the day before, HIAL announced that it will be extending its exemptions based on the consultation on the passenger surveys, which will include people who travel from other islands and might be affected by car parking charges.
Yes. Gail Ross is right to emphasise the importance of our Highlands and Islands airports. The sustainability of our air services is vital, and car parking charges are being brought in to ensure that air services are sustainable for the future for our island communities and our Highlands communities.