Islanders living in one of Scotland's most remote communities have urged transport leaders to fund more flights to plug winter service cuts.

People living on Colonsay get three sailings a week from Oban and one from Kennacraig, via Islay, on a Saturday.

They were told by CalMac that they would lose five Monday services over the winter months, for the second year running, which equates to a 25% reduction in services over 21 weeks.

The ferry operator said this was unavoidable due to having a single vessel, the Loch Frisa, on the Mull run while the Isle of Mull is redeployed or in dry dock.

Islanders say Colonsay has a significantly poorer service than other small isles such as Coll and Tiree, which have no timetabled missed sailings for the whole winter. Coll has five weekly sailings and Tiree has six. 

The island's transport group held discussions with CalMac and said it had demonstrated that with timetabling re- arrangements the ferry operator would be able to run a consistent Monday service through the winter.

Residents also floated the idea of the Hebridean Air Service chartering a Monday flight.

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"We estimate this will cost less than the fuel used to run the normal ferry, so a win for CalMac," said David Hobhouse, chairman of Colonsay's Lifeline Transport Group.

"CalMac seemed up for the idea, and it would have provided some certainty for Colonsay, but they have now apparently been told by Transport Scotland that as a ferry company, they can't charter airplanes. 

"They are however seemingly able to hire in other passenger-only vessels when they need to. 

"CalMac cut the services last year and we were furious and we had endless meetings with them and we got the message across - we thought - that it was totally unacceptable and then they did it again.

The Herald:

"The Kennacraig ferry is heavily booked and was only able to take one vehicle from Colonsay last Saturday. 

"At least five others had to leave Colonsay on the Friday instead as there was no room from Islay to the mainland."

Colonsay at one point had two flights a week to Oban, funded by Argyll and Bute Council but this was cut to one two years ago.

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"People used it all the time to go to hospital appointments, dentists, see a solicitor - all sorts of things," said Mr Hobhouse.

"Then with the ferries getting more and more unreliable and disruptive, we are really feeling the fact that we only get one flight a week."

He said he was "particularly riled" when Transport Scotland announced subsidised improvements to air services from Barra and Tiree to Glasgow.

He said: "Transport Scotland has Public Service Obligations on the flights to Tiree and Barra so we thought perhaps they could look at doing the same for Colonsay to help with our lifeline services. 

"Apparently, they can't as there are constraints on the public purse.  There is clearly no interest in helping us out.

"We expect that a patient staying in a hotel for days going and trying to get back from an appointment costs the NHS more in the long-run. There is no joined-up thinking.

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"With a decent air service we could maybe get by with less ferries, or at least any disruption would be less damaging."

He said the ongoing disruption had had a huge impact on the island's "six-month economy" and was affecting bookings for Summer 2024.

He said: "All this seems to fly in the face of the Island Act which aspires to balance the levels of public service between mainland and island communities, let alone between other islands. 

"Yet again we seem to be ending up as the worst-affected."

Andrew Abrahams said Transport Scotland and CalMac was "failing in its statutory obligations to provide a lifeline service to Colonsay".

He said: "We ask for an air service ( safer and cheaper) but Transport Scotland will not allow a shipping company to pay for an air service.  Yet the same shipping company are allowed to pay a hotel for accommodation if for technical reasons they have to cancel or amend a service.

"This madness must be exposed.  

"Hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in the infrastructure of Colonsay over the past decades.   

"These millions have been spent in an attempt to maintain a dwindling population.  All of this investment is being thrown away due to lack of even a minimum ferry and air service.

"Transport Scotland/Cal Mac must look to the future and learn something from this mess.  The country and the environment can not afford to run ever larger vessels to small islands in the winter months for a small number of passengers."

A CalMac spokeswoman said the idea for a Monday flight was brought up at a meeting with Colonsay residents but they were told it wasn't an option for a ferry company and would be unlikely to receive the backing of Transport Scotland. 

Finlay MacRae, Head of Operations for CalMac, said: “The current winter timetable is one of the most complex and challenging that CalMac has ever had to produce, with multiple vessels required to cover single routes.

"This timetable was produced following close consultation with local communities and while we are using the most suitable vessels for each route, periods of reduced service are still unavoidable for routes such as Colonsay, as we have stretched the fleet to its absolute limits.

"We appreciate this is causing real difficulties and will work as much as possible to find solutions where we can and where we are able to."

A Transport Scotland spokesman added: “Scotland is facing the most challenging budget situation since devolution and there are no plans to impose a PSO on a Colonsay to Glasgow air service.’

Last month Hebridean Air Services announced it was axing a service to Islay because of low passenger numbers. The route to Islay, famed for its natural beauty and whisky heritage, was not subsidised.