PASSENGER numbers at Scotland's regional airports have increased by almost 70,000 in the past 12 months, partly as a result of greater traffic from the energy sector.

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) said the new figures meant the period between April 2013 and the end of March this year was its busiest on record. The 11 airports run by HIAL handled almost 1.37 million passengers, an increase of 5.4%, with Sumburgh the top performer.

It saw 287,525 people pass through, a 32.2% rise on the previous 12 months, as oil companies gear up for west of Shetland developments and a major new pipeline coming on stream.

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Wick John O'Groats, up nearly 22% to 41,281, also benefited from energy related fixed wing and helicopter operations. Inverness was the busiest it has been for five years with more than 619,000 people passing through the terminal. The 1.3% rise was primarily fuelled by flights to Manchester, Birmingham, Gatwick and Amsterdam.

Kirkwall, up 8.3% to 177,899, and Islay, up 2% to 27,297, were the other sites which saw annual increases.

Inglis Lyon, managing director of HIAL said, "Last year was our best ever in passenger terms, with the group exceeding the 1.3 million mark for the first time. We owe much of this success to HIAL's capacity to attract new energy related business, particularly at Wick John O'Groats and Sumburgh. We are confident that both airports can continue to attract new business.

"Kirkwall was another strong performer, attracting an extra 13,000 passengers through the year.

"Although growth at Inverness was more modest, 2013/14 was its busiest year in five years and we are hopeful that we can secure further growth from Flybe and easyJet at Inverness" Dundee was down by more than 44% in the period to 26,774 as flights to London City were reduced, however connection to Stansted have recently been launched.

Barra and Benbecula also saw double digit percentage declines while the drops at Tiree, Stornoway and Campbeltown were more modest.

Mr Lyon said changes to inter-island schedules had a significant impact on passenger numbers.