Clarity call on the Cardiff to Anglesey route as Highland stops bookings

26.1.2010   (BBC)
Highland stops bookings.
Calls for clarity on the future of the north to south Wales air route are made
after the air firm running it said it was facing “continuing problems”.

The twice-daily route between Anglesey and Cardiff is operated by Highland Airways
with £800,000 public subsidy from the Welsh Assembly Government.

Tenders for a new contract for the route ended on Wednesday and it is understood
only Highland Airways bid.

Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones described it as an “essential link”.

“”This service provides an essential link between North and South Wales and has
been a huge success with passenger numbers far exceeding expectations,” he said.

“Since it begun in May 2007, it has attracted 37,000 passengers.”

Three-year contract

Mr Jones added the Welsh Assembly Government remained committed to maintaining
the service.

“We have had contact throughout the day with Highlands Airways and will continue
to do so that they keep us up to date with news on potential investors.

“Our main priority is keeping this service going.

“Ideally, we want Highland to remain running this route whilst they look for
new investors.

“If this is not possible and we face a worse case scenario with Highlands going
into administration, we hope any administrators could continue the service.

“If the administrators were unable to do this, the assembly government will look
for an interim solution to continue running the route – we feel we could do this
fairly quickly to ensure passengers continue to have a service. One option would
be to issue an interim contract.

“We are also in the middle of a re-tendering the service as our current contract
with Highland Airways expires in May.”

Highland Airways was awarded a three-year contract to run the north-south Wales
route from May 2007.

But it is currently not taking bookings for any flights.

The deadline for airlines to tender for the new contract, starting in May this
year, closed last Wednesday.

It is understood that the only bidders are Highland Airways, but the Welsh Assembly
Government has not confirmed this.

The route has a Public Service Obligation (PSO) condition on it, which means
there are fixed standards of continuity, regularity, capacity and pricing.

The PSO, the first of its type in Wales, specifies a range of service-related
requirements, such as frequency and timings, aircraft capacity and fare levels.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, Jenny Randerson, said she had concerns
over the matter.

“It is particularly worrying that only one bid was received by WAG (Welsh Assembly
Government),” she said.

Public subsidy

“This does suggest that despite huge public subsidy, this service is still not
seen as a viable, profitable, and green solution to this key transport need.”

Ms Randerson said the Labour-Plaid assembly government must seek full assurance
of the financial stability of the “private entity receiving this large public

She added that the Liberal Democrats were opposed to such a large subsidy being
given to a service which so few Welsh citizens were able to access.

An Isle of Anglesey County Council spokesperson said: “Any issues involving the
operation of the contract would in the first instance be a matter between the
assembly and the airline.”

Management at the Inverness-based airline met with staff on Monday morning, and
told them they were still hopeful of survival – despite what was described as
“continuing difficulties”.

Commercial director Basil O’Fee said in a statement: “The company is currently
facing difficult trading, most recently exacerbated by the severe winter and resultant
reduced flying and reduced income.

“The board has been seeking new investment and has been in discussion with several
parties in recent weeks.

“The outcome of all these discussions should be judged within days rather than
weeks,” he said.

“In the meantime the company continues to trade normally, fully supported by
all our staff and continues to enjoy the support and encouragement of its many
stakeholders and customers,” he added.

The airline operates flights from Inverness to the Western and Northern Isles,
as well as in Wales.

see also
a story form March 2008:

Wales – Call for North-South flights’ true cost to public

25th March 2008

Officials have no idea how many passengers on the North-South air service are
getting their travel costs paid by the public. One AM (Assembly Member) said yesterday
it was important to record how many users of the flights between Anglesey and
Cardiff were civil servants, councillors,and others from the public sector. (Western
Mail – Wales)           Click here to view full story…