We worked with JLS Consulting Ltd and Energy Aviation Services Ltd to analyse trends in the air services network serving the Scottish Highlands and Islands and identified risks to future connectivity. The study proposes a series of solutions and recommends that Highlands and Islands Airports and associated aviation stakeholders consider the deployment of a modified Public Service Obligation framework and the creation of a virtual airline as a temporary solution for those island communities that lose air services.

Key facts

    • Highlands & Islands Airports Ltd manages 11 airports located across the Scottish Highlands and Islands region. The company is owned by the Scottish Government.
    • The airports provide isolated communities with access to essential air services that provide connectivity to the Scottish Mainland and beyond.
    • Most air services to these airports are operated by airlines on a commercial basis without any financial support from the Government.
    • The aircraft operated on these routes are old and need replacing. Because these aircraft types are no longer in production, there is a risk that the deployment of replacements will change the economics of operating the network raising the risk of reduced frequency/capacity and air service withdrawal.
  • Funded by Highlands & Islands Airports Ltd

Impact of our research

Our study has supported the development of air transport policy in the Scottish Highlands and Islands through identifying and analysing the risks relating to the future integrity of its air services network and providing an evaluation of different ways the public service obligation mechanism can be improved and an exploration of the potential feasibility of a contingency air service solution in the event of a sudden and unexpected loss in connectivity to one of the island communities.

The findings have been incorporated into the Highlands & Islands Airports 2019-2025 strategy and also disseminated to local authorities and other regional stakeholders who are considering the implications of the study in the development of their own transport resilience plans.

Why the research was commissioned

Highlands & Islands Airports recognised the need, as part of their future strategy, to consider the risks to future air service continuity especially with regard to their smaller island aerodromes. There was a need to evaluate what frameworks or systems could be established that could be deployed in the event of a sudden and unexpected loss in air service connectivity.

Why Cranfield?

We have a large number of academics focused on management and policy in air transport. We have developed over the years a particular focus on researching how air transport services are managed in remoter regions and the effectiveness of policy and support frameworks. Studies have been undertaken for a range of clients such as Avinor (Norwegian airports), MAVCOM (Malaysian air transport regulator) and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

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