PLANS to have a Highlands airport and its 'lifeline' flights protected from future closure has been supported with a £1m-a-year taxpayer fund.

Calls have been made for there to be a public service obligation over the operation of Wick airport in Caithness in the wake of its "demise".

It comes following the loss of flights to and from Edinburgh and Aberdeen raising concerns that the regions was being cut off.

A petition lodged with the UK Government for the protection of Wick airport from July, 2020, was rejected, as UK ministers believed it was a matter for the Scottish Government.

Now the Scottish Government's transport agency has said they are making a "significant financial commitment" to help reintroduce flights at Wick Airport.

Up to £4 million will be made available to the Highland Council over the next four financial years to bring back services to and from the airport.

Transport Scotland said the funding will help the Highland Council to "take forward plans for Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes", in consultation with local communities and businesses.

David Avery, negotiator with the Prospect union said: “This is welcome investment in Wick airport which has suffered from the previous loss of commercial passenger routes..

“Adding a PSO route will not only safeguard jobs at the airport itself, but provide a boost to the wider Caithness economy.”

HeraldScotland:

The petition said: "Making Wick airport in Caithness a public service obligation for commercial flights to Edinburgh and or other destinations will increase visitors, investors, and help locals connect to central parts of the UK. "Since the current commercial flights have been cancelled it has devestated our area and this will increase over time. We do not want our beautiful county to be cut off from the rest of the UK and be left behind."

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “We recognise the issues faced by the Caithness area.

“This will allow the Highland Council, in partnership with key stakeholders, to take forward plans for Public Service Obligation routes. I am in no doubt they are best placed to determine the services that are required by their communities.

“My officials in Transport Scotland would also be happy to provide advice on the PSO process, as they do with other local authorities which contract air services.

“This offer underlines our strong support for restoring air connectivity to the Caithness and Sutherland area and we look forward to working with the Highland Council to bring flights back to Wick Airport.”

Local MSP Rhoda Grant has said that the writing was on the wall for Wick Airport’s vital air links as early as 2018.

In October, last year she lodged two parliamentary questions asking what action was being taken after Loganair ended its Wick-Edinburgh service and Eastern Airways pulled out of its Wick-Aberdeen route.

She says the answer was that the aviation industry has been profoundly impacted by Covid-19 and that the secretary was “considering carefully the business case” submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.

Commenting on the development, the Highland Council's  economy and infrastructure committee, Trish Robertson said: “We have been highlighting to the Scottish Government, the pressing need for an ambitious new approach to protecting vital regional aviation links, particularly in relation to Wick John O’Groats Airport, so this is a positive step forward. However, we really do need to fully understand the fiscal implications both for the council and other partners before making a decision. 

“We need to ensure that a sustainable funding model can be put together to deliver a long term future for Wick John O’Groats Airport. This will require continuing engagement."

The council have been asked by the Herald whether it would be implementing any public service obligation and is awaiting a response.