Airport fuel dilemma adds extra air miles

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Lifeline flights from Oban to the islands are notching up extra air miles because there is still no fuel at the airport.

After the existing aviation fuel provider cut short its contract by nine months, Hebridean Air Services Limited (HASL) flights have to go to Islay Airport to fill up.

The journey is a 110 nautical mile round trip taking about 30 minutes each way.

News of the extra air miles has fuelled concerns among climate campaigners and coincides with the start of an online petition at change.org calling on Argyll and Bute Council, which runs Oban Airport, to declare a climate emergency.

HASL’s Public Service Obligation Contract manager Martin McWilliam told The Oban Times it was continuing to operate despite the lack of fuel at Oban Airport and had not had to cut back ‘yet’ on the subsidised public service flights it runs for Argyll and Bute Council.

‘We are continuing to operate and are popping across to Islay for fuel. We are operating as advertised and as before. We’ve not had to cut anything yet.’

When pressed about how the re-fuelling trips must be bumping up HASL’s costs, Mr McWilliam said he could not comment.

He said it was the council’s responsibility to organise fuel for Oban Airport.

Private company TLC (Total Logistics Concepts) announced in September it would only supply the public service flights with fuel until October 17. Sales to private pilots had stopped even earlier.

Pupils and health workers are among regular passengers on HASL’s flights connecting the mainland to the islands.

Despite the council agreeing options in 2018 to boost its airport income, including selling aviation fuel itself to regular users and private flyers, Argyll and Bute did not have a solution ready and waiting when TLC cut short its contract.

A spokesperson for Oban Extinction Rebellion said: ‘This problem with aviation fuel at Oban Airport highlights the dependency we have developed on fossil fuels which has been described as an addiction. We don’t know how to manage without it so will go to ridiculous lengths such as this to obtain it.

‘Argyll and Bute council should take this as a warning of what is to come and start prioritising how we are going to organise and run our transport systems in Argyll as we make the transition to a fossil fuel free future. The climate crisis needs to be at heart of every decision it makes from aviation to housing, from education to social care. Everything will be affected by the changes which are coming.

‘Given that taking off and landing add the greatest emissions, these extra flights to get fuel will be adding greatly to the carbon footprint of everyone using that fuel. This is not something to be proud of.’

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson said: ‘This is a short-term solution to enable lifeline flights to continue to our fragile island communities following the early termination of the contract between the commercial fuel supplier and the air services operator.

‘Working in partnership with the air services operator, we hope to have a solution by the end of the month. We are committed to keeping disruption of flights to an absolute minimum.’

Lewis Ward from Appin who set up the change.org petition with Freya Fletcher from Luing said: ‘Flying all those miles to fill up with fuel is ridiculous. It rubs salt into the wound that Argyll and Bute Council has not declared a climate emergency yet while the rest of the world is facing one.’