FEARS are growing that the only direct air route between the Highlands and Gatwick could be put at risk by Government opposition to new runways in the south-east of England.

The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (Hitrans) has voiced concern landing slots for domestic flights at Gatwick and Heathrow airports may be lost to more profitable long-haul flights, leaving Inverness Airport without its Gatwick service.

There are also fears it would dash any lasting hopes of Inverness regaining its Heathrow link, which was withdrawn by British Airways in 1997 and re-introduced by BMI from 2004 to 2008. If Inverness was to lose Flybe's Gatwick service, it would be left only with the easyJet connection to Luton.

In a report, Hitrans highlighted the "lack of focus" by Government over the past 20 years on the need to protect domestic air links with Heathrow and Gatwick. Hitrans joined forces for the report with Nestrans, the transport partnership serving Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire.

Dave Duthie, Hitrans partnership director, said there were major concerns about the prospects of retaining high quality air links to and through London if the Government's stance on new runways in the south-east of England was maintained.

He said: "Landing slots at the UK's two most important gateway airports – Heathrow and Gatwick – would be at a premium in the increasingly constrained capacity that would result from this."