Letter from Edinburgh - Friday 28th October 2016

This week, Tavish shares his memories of flying from Tingwall and looks at the decision to expand Heathrow. 

It has been a week of two airports – Heathrow and Tingwall.

A 40th birthday cake and lots of splendid photographs were available to view at the Tingwall offices on Monday. The cake brought back happy memories of waiting for the Twin Otter Loganair service direct to Edinburgh. Violet’s café, run out of a cupboard, and her chocolate cake was the only way to fortify the average passenger before the two-hour flight.

On one occasion with a steady southerly gale, the flight took two-and-a-half hours. That is a long time in a small plane and Violet’s cake was the only reason we all managed!

Well done to Fiona Farquhar and all the Tingwall team for organising Monday’s celebrations.

The real point is that Shetland’s outer islands need Tingwall and the air services that fly from there. It is an efficient operation that caters for the islands’ needs.

Heathrow is different. The fight between Gatwick and one of the world’s busiest airports has been rumbling on for decades. Heathrow is winning UK and Scottish government support for expansion, has made all kinds of promises. There will be more short-haul flights to the north of England and Scotland.

Yet two arguments were overlooked. Virgin Atlantic operated regional routes to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester for three years. These linked to Virgin’s transatlantic flights. But the company then dropped the internal UK flights and instead used the slots for other long haul services.

Why would we believe that the full-service carriers such as British Airways will introduce more short-haul flights? They will operate on routes where they can make the most money.

Secondly, Heathrow expansion may be the death knell for extending high-speed rail to Scotland. HS2 is a project – not a reality. But much faster train journeys between Scotland and London would be far better for the environment and much more attractive for travellers.

So it is surprising that government in London and Edinburgh facing real climate change challenges would so enthusiastically back Heathrow expansion. It may never happen.

On that Boris Johnson is right. Another decade of legal and environmental challenge lies ahead.

But Heathrow’s lobbying was huge. They paid huge amounts to attend the recent SNP conference in Glasgow. Cynics might wonder why the SNP government backed Heathrow after just being paid tens of thousands of pounds for attending their party conference.

The Tories are even worse. David Cameron said, no ifs no buts, no expansion of Heathrow. No wonder one of their MPs has resigned.

Perhaps if all these clever people had sat down in the waiting room with a cuppa and a slice of Violet’s cake, they would have solved the challenges facing London’s airports rather more quickly.

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