Inverness to lose Heathrow link as BMI scraps flights

4.1.2008   (Scotsman and BBC)

THE only air link between the Highlands and Heathrow is to be scrapped.   BMI
yesterday announced it was to “suspend” the once-a-day service from Inverness
at the end of March because of a lack of bookings.

The move was condemned by politicians and business leaders, while Stewart Stevenson,
the transport minister, said he was seeking a meeting with the airline to urge
a rethink.

BMI said there had been insufficient demand for the Inverness service. Peter
Spencer, the company’s managing director, said air passenger duty and airport
charges at Heathrow had put pressure on short-haul services.

He said: “We are very disappointed that there has been insufficient demand to
operate a viable profitable operation on this route.”

Mr Stevenson said: “The Inverness and Highland business community fought long
and hard to get a service to Heathrow reinstated following British Airways withdrawal
in 1997.

“It is also particularly disappointing, given Highlands and Islands Airports
efforts to achieve a better scheduling of the service, which would have gone a
long way to improving its viability.”

Flybe and Easyjet fly to Gatwick and Easyjet also runs services to Luton.

Mr Alexander, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said it was now
essential to protect the Highlands’ links with Gatwick.   Mr Alexander claimed
the suspension was a direct result of European Union transport ministers’ unanimous
backing for an “open skies” aviation deal with the US.

The agreement is aimed at liberalising transatlantic air travel and eases restrictions
on travel between Europe and the US.   This has put pressure on the flight slots
available at Heathrow.

Mr Inglis Lyon, Managing Director for Highlands and Islands airports said “We
are also talking to operators regarding potential new London services, with London
City a target for development.”