Uncertainty continues over islands’ threatened flights

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The future of scheduled flights linking Tiree, Coll and Colonsay to Oban is still up in the air.

There is little more than two weeks to go before the flights could be grounded for at least six weeks after a contract for the service was not renewed.

Earlier this year Argyll and Bute Council abandoned the procurement process after only one tender was submitted and was classed as ‘non-compliant’.

For the past seven years, the essential air link has been run on behalf of the council by Hebridean Air Services Ltd (HASL) based at Oban Airport. The company also runs a public service obligation for Shetland Islands Council from Dingwall.

Despite the clock ticking, a spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council said there was no new update.

‘The contract for the air services from Oban to the islands of Tiree, Coll and Colonsay is out to tender and we remain committed to working towards a solution,’ he said.

Oban and Isles councillor Roddy McCuish has not given up hope. He said: ‘I am aware negotiations are still going on and I hope there will be a positive outcome for all concerned.’

More than £1.5m in council funding was made available for the three-year contract. Additionally, the council provides £750,000 annually for the operation of Coll, Colonsay and Oban airports.

HASL’s current contract runs out on May 15.

Among passengers who rely on the air service are eight young islanders from Coll and seven on Colonsay who travel to school in Oban and use the flights to get back home at weekends. Health professionals also use the service.

Oban High School headteacher Peter Bain also uses scheduled flights to reach Tiree High School, of which he is also head. Tiree’s flights to Oban will be affected by the situation but the island  still has flights to Glasgow.

Transport Scotland has just published its invitation to tender air routes from Glasgow to Tiree, Campbeltown and Barra which will run from October 25 this year for four years.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: ‘It includes new measures which will see little used services from Tiree and Barra removed from schedules to create a bank of rotations which can be used at the discretion of local communities.’

A trial on the Barra service, which sees seats reserved for passengers travelling for medical purposes, will also be formalised in the new contract and timetable changes made to the Campbeltown service in 2015 will continue.

The estimated value of the four-year contract is around £20 million.