Case made for Inverness to Heathrow link

13.5.2009   (Press and Journal)

by David Perry

An influential Commons committee will be urged tomorrow to back calls for the
restoration of direct air links between Inverness Airport and Heathrow.

Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership director David Duthie will press the case at a meeting of the Commons transport committee in Westminster.

It is conducting an inquiry into "The Future of Aviation" and will be in a position, if its members agree, to support the proposition
that airports on the periphery, like Inverness and Aberdeen, should receive favourable
treatment at the UK’s main hub compared with closer regional airports with quicker
ground transport routes to London.

The committee’s terms of reference for the inquiry include the roles of the London
and regional airports, and the extent to which rail can provide an alternative
to short-haul flights.

Mr Duthie said last night he would be answering MPs’ questions and would hope
to make the case for improved access to the hub.

He said: "We are trying to attract investment to the Highlands and to do this
we need good access not only to London but to international airline connections,
particularly to the United States."

He said businessmen regarded interlining as so important some were driving from Inverness to Aberdeen for flights to Heathrow.

"That makes us two-and-a-half hours further away from the rest of the world,"
he said.

About half the passengers needed to interline. The other half were travelling
to London.

Mr Duthie said slots at Heathrow change hands for £20million or £30milllion and although flights from Inverness would be viable, they would not make as
much profit as a large passenger plane travelling to America.

Inverness lost its last direct flight to Heathrow operated by BMI a year ago.

The airport lost the more convenient two flights a day operated by British Airways
or its partners morning and evening several years earlier.

Gatwick was an inadequate substitute because it lacked sufficient flights to
the US, he said.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander
said: "Direct links to Heathrow are vitally important for the economy of the Highlands
and islands."

He said there was a strong case for Inverness, Aberdeen and Belfast airports
to have slots at Heathrow reserved for them regardless of whether or not a third runway is built.