Air travel has been described as a ‘lifeline not a luxury’ for people living and working in the Highlands and Islands in a new report.
The verdict was published by Scottish Rural Action (SRA) and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
The report was commissioned by the Scottish Government’s Air Departure Tax Highlands and Islands Working Group to find out the views of people who live and work in the Highlands and Islands about the importance of air travel.
The report analysed the lived experience of 1460 people who took part in research conducted last autumn.
The respondents felt that flights are ‘embedded’ within island life, enabling essential medical and family transport, and contributing to valuable business and economic activity that sustains many remote rural communities.
Respondents also reported that the high cost of air travel was prohibitive, particularly when booked at last minute and compared with European and long-haul flights, discouraging people from using these transport services as much as they wanted and needed to – with 86% of respondents saying they would like to fly more often.
The report identified a common theme in the responses, that flights are a lifeline not a luxury. The speed and comparative reliability of air travel, compared to travel by sea, particularly during bad weather, means many consider air travel to be a critically important method of transport.
Professor Sarah Skerratt, director of policy engagement at SRUC, said: ‘We are extremely grateful to the hundreds of people from across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands who took the time to describe their experiences of air transport – what it means to them in their daily lives, how it enables them to remain connected, maintain their wellbeing (physical and mental), and sustain their social, economic and cultural ways of life.
‘We also asked respondents to give us a single message for the Scottish Government. Their responses, based on valuable lived experience, give useful pointers for ways forward that are inclusive, fair and forward-thinking.’
Fiona Thomson of Scottish Rural Action said: ‘People living and working in rural and island parts of Scotland rely on air travel. Access to services, which many people on mainland Scotland take for granted, can be complex and prohibitively expensive for Scots living in more remote communities.
‘Our research clearly illustrates the many ways in which air travel is a lifeline, not a luxury.’
Respondents highlighted a number of themes for the Scottish Government in relation to air transport, emphasising its importance in the areas of health, business, cultural and social inclusion, and for economic development.
Respondents also said they would be encouraged to fly more often if airlines or airports could simplify and reduce pricing, increase routes and reliability, and adjust schedules to allow for longer day trips.
The full report can be found at https://www.sra.scot/air-transport/