It’s been reported in the West Highland Free Press and on the BBC News, that students at the UHI will design the infrastructure for the proposed Ashaig upgrade. This is certainly one way of keeping the projected costs down and of some benefit being derived, even if this proves to be just a hypothetical exercise.
For the students involved in the design work this would be a great opportunity, you never know there could be a “Charles Rennie Mackintosh” or a “Frank Lloyd Wright”among them. Perhaps an outstanding design would give the whole project a better chance of success, but it’s unlikely as they’ll be designing something to a price. If the Airport was there I think it would be used, however we have the perfect chicken and egg situation. Actually I’m really looking forward to seeing the designs that these students come up with, I am in fact quite excited about it.
As anyone who has read any of this blog will appreciate I’m pretty sceptical when it comes to the proposals for the airstrip at Ashaig, I would love the airstrip to be upgraded to what would effectively be a regional Airport (albeit at the smaller end of the scale). But in reality I just don’t see this happening, to me the primary reason it will fail is simple – there will not be sufficient passenger numbers.
The Scottish government has clearly stated that there will be no funding, there is I suspect little chance of funding from other sources. I don’t see private equity being a source of funding, there just wouldn’t be the financial return for an investor.
There has been no news about the scheduled air service to the central belt from any sources, not that this is a surprise as the tourist season is in full swing and people have other things to do. You may think that I’m being a bit cynical when I say that, but most people that work in the seasonal industries on Skye have only the sometimes all to brief summer to earn their income for the year. Although there are employers on the Island providing year round employment, there are many more providing seasonal work.
The report mentioned earlier in this blog concluded that there would be a requirement for 14 staff, possibly less if there was the possibility of sharing the fire fighting staff. As I have already said, having an air service from the central belt to Skye would be a real plus for me. But having glanced through the report yet again, I feel that it would be better to push for one of the more expensive options. My reasoning behind this is simple, the better the facilities the more likely they are to be utilised. I mean building a half decent hanger would likely mean that aircraft would be based at Ashaig, given the geographical position of Ashaig in relation to the other island airstrips possibly for more than one service.
It would be great if we had a decent facility on the island, but alas we don’t. We have a flying club equipped with a number of microlight aircraft, but I don’t think that they are based at the air strip on a permanent basis – possibly due to the lack of hangarage? As I have gone over the options in the report, I’ve come to the “personal” conclusion that we really should aim for the option where the airstrip becomes an airport for the area. For me the preferred option would be Option D, where the runway is extended to 950m from the current 770m. Even although there would be some impact on the SSSI at the North East end of the runway and the costs would be much higher, this to me is the better option allowing for bigger aircraft albeit at a restricted load level of 70 to 89% that’s 25 to 32 available seats per flight depending on the loading. This gives at least 25,000 available seats on the route, probably for not much more cost per passenger.
As for the history of aviation on Skye, at the 1932 Skye Games there were pleasure flights around the bay and further afield to Stornaway and St Kilda. The seaplane “Cloud of Iona” managed to generate long queues all day, introducing many on the island to the joy of flying. There were probably other events earlier than this, but this is currently the earliest reference that I can find at the moment. During the second world war there were a number of aircraft incidents in Skye, sadly there were a number of fatalities and a number of the wreck sites are still visible if one knows where to look. Obviously there was the BEA and Loganair services in the 70’s and 80’s.
There has been nothing in the news since the government decided that there would be no funding for this initiative, not that that was totally unexpected as I’ve already said. However I did read in the WHFP that there will be substantial funding for a gaelic dictionary, the monetary amount will be about the same as the bottom end estimate for the upgrade of the air strip. Which is quite interesting, as the main beneficiary of the funding is one of the groups determined to have the air service restarted. The party to be in receipt of the generous grant of funds is Sabhal Mor Ostaig UHI, along with some other universities in Scotland. It is quite right that these funds are directed here, as the primary function of Sabhal Mor Ostaig UHI is the preservation of the Gaelic language and culture.
But I must admit, I for one would rather have seen the monies used to improve the links that Skye has with the rest of the UK. Still there is always hope that there will be funding found, if required from several sources to further this project.
The news has been full of the news about the birth of the Son of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, third inline to the throne – George Alexander Louis Mountbatten-Widsor. Nothing on the air service to Skye front, not that this is a huge surprise as the Government has left the stage after deciding that the funding for this service is not available. As I have already said, there is only one group of people that will in truth be able to get this thing off the ground (hopefully you’ll excuse the pun as it’s been used before on the site). As several people far wiser than me have said, there is in all likelihood sufficient demand for the service but the powers that be have to be persuaded.
In among the coming posts I intend to set up a form, using this form people will be able to make their views known to a number of MP’s and MSP’s – using the media in all it’s forms may lend some weight to this campaign. Obviously there would be the option albeit very slim, that an air service could be run as a self financing service. This would be more realistic if there was some more room for manoeuvre, such as using a modern single such as the Cessna 208 Caravan. This however is unlikely to happen, probably due to regulation enforced or even actioned by the Civil Aviation Authority. Despite being an option in several other countries like Canada, where these large STOL singles operate over all sorts of terrain.
So hopefully by the time I get round to posting again I will have found the email addresses that will be needed, I may even get round to starting an online petition to get things going a bit more.
As you can see from the previous post, there is the possibility that this attempt to start a scheduled service from Skye may well not get off the ground. So perhaps there should be a more militant approach to the application of the pressure, in order to do that we have to let people know that there is the demand for the air service. The sample size used to make the predictions of the demands for flights was a reasonable size, the numbers were 919 respondents – however only 684 of these responses were able to be used. Some couldn’t be used because of duplication and some because the data wasn’t clean, these are the figures from the report.
So our options would seem to be limited here, the first question we as a community have to ask is how much do we want this service. Then surely we have to consider the costs against the potential benefits, making a final decision based not only on the latter. The decision has to be influenced or even driven by the first, but influenced by the latter.
The drive to ensure we have a creditable scheduled air service to Skye, will have to come from the community and there is a need to let the people who will make the decisions know what we actually want. Probably the A82 will be upgraded to dual carriage way all the way to the Skye bridge before we get this air service, but if we don’t let people who can influence this know what we want we’ll never get the air service.
So here is the latest article from the West Highland Free Press, the article details the views of some of the people who are involved in the FlySkye action group. The is not good as far as government involvement in this project goes, but as I said in one of the earlier posts this is only the beginning of what will probably be a long and quite possibly rocky road.
The article can be found at the link below, it is still worth a read and may spur people on to join the group and apply some pressure on the government.
The Skye Air Service Study Report has been presented to the interested parties and it’s recommendations are probably being actively considered, these recommendations were as follows;
A joint working group is formed comprising the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland and HIAL joining Highland Council, HITRANS and HIE, who have led this Initial Feasibility Study.
The working group should progress detailed investigations starting with DfT liaison to discuss the feasibility of establishing a PSO service to Skye.
When available, the outcome of the work by HIAL on GNSS approaches should be reviewed and implications for Broadford understood.
Subject to the outcome of the above, development work on GNSS approach procedures should be undertaken to assess the benefits of providing an instrument approach.
Discussions should be led by the working group, and involve airlines, fire authorities and CAA to gain greater certainty on the infrastructure and facilities needed to gain an operating licence for the airfield.
Influenced by the outcome of these key actions the detailed business case should be advanced determining the specific capital and revenue costs, and the full economic and social growth and benefits that would be realised. The case should be advanced to a stage to enable decisions on investments to be made.
Having looked through the report, I’m actually quite happy with most of the contents. It seems to be a well considered document, with information from a number of sources. There may be scope for a different interpretation of the data from these sources, however without revisiting all the research done by RDC Aviation and ARUP it must be accepted ex silentioso with that in mind.
I’m probably quite happy with the recommendations as they stand, however whether I’ll be so happy with the way that it proceeds remains to be seen.
The scant mention (and it’s out of hand dismissal as a possible revenue source) of the general aviation contribution, or possible contribution doesn’t sit well. I would suggest that more effort could be made with investigating the potential business, as no survey of the general aviation population was undertaken.
No mention in made of other potential traffic that could be generated by collaborating with business services from other areas of Scotland, very targeted marketing of the Skye brand would generate business both in the commercial and general aviation sector.
Consideration was given to the spend for a person arriving on a scheduled flight, there was no mention of the spend of a person arriving on a general aviation flight – possibly because the numbers are considered inconsequential.
It is obvious from reading through the report, that there is no way forward for this without the establishment of a working group who are successful in forcing the implementation of a Public Service Obligation (PSO). These are in fact the first two of the recommendations, the PSO is a prerequisite for the whole scheduled service scenario and without it it is unlikely that any commercial operator will become involved.
Here we have a news item from 2006, it infers that an air service to skye may well be in the offing. The origins of this story actually run back to the middle of 2004 so over 9 years ago, whereas much has changed in this period of time the fact that Skye is still without a service hasn’t.
It’s good to see local people who have a keen interest in starting an air service get involved, but the likelihood of success is low without some compromise. Just that the FlySkye grouping has managed to onboard an MP and an MSP is an achievement, but to keep some momentum going is now required. In addition there is a requirement to onboard the public, not only through a survey to ascertain the likely load factors. Actually persuading people to contact their MP and MSP may well prove beneficial, in general the more noise that is made by the electorate the more attention the elected representative will pay.
Over the past few years there have been a number of statements made about the Ashaig air strip being reopened to commercial traffic. It has been used by quite a number of general aviation flights as well, along with some government agencies HMRC (Large Cessna Twin – possibly a 421) and the Bermudan Customs (Pilatus PC-12) have both been users of the strip. Even Loch Lomond Sea Planes have used the strip, so there is some scope for additional traffic through cultivating it’s usage by the general aviation fraternity.
Sea Plane at Ashaig
Here is a picture taken on the day that the Cessna 208 Caravan was at Ashaig, waiting on a charter party from the North end of Skye. This is an eight seater and although a single engined type, would certainly manage a summer service the aircraft is a fairly frequent visitor to Glasgow Airport as well as the river Clyde in the city centre. Although I’m not suggesting that this is the way to go, it is a part of the aviation spectrum not considered possibly for reasons that I’m not aware of.
Given the inclement weather that we can have in Skye and the terrain between here and the central belt, I’d obviously be much happier with a twin engined aircraft – but there may be scope for considering a large single for a summer service. It may well be that the Civil Aviation Authority couldn’t countenance the use of a single on the route, so the whole thing may be not even worth investigating. But the Cessna 208 Caravan could deliver the same level of service as the Britten Norman Islander, whether it would be allowed to or not is a different question.
This is the question that obviously has to be asked, I’m sure that everyone will look at this from a slightly different perspective. It would seem that aside from the fact that the air strip is already there, a multitude of other things have to be considered as well. Even the air strip being there may detract from other possible sites on the Island, although I’m not aware of any that are suitable. What about the choice of aircraft, already mentioned in the Skye Air Service Study Report are the “Twin Otter”, the “Islander” and the “Trislander”. All of these are fine aircraft, each with a long pedigree and it’s plusses and minuses.
All the aircraft mentioned have been in regular service in the UK, in some cases for more than fifty years. With passenger capacities ranging from 8 to 19 any of these would be a candidate for the service, obviously we are looking at a service provider that already operates suitable aircraft. To increase the variety of usable aircraft, there would be the cost of increasing the length of the runway and upgrading the hard standing and other infrastructure. Indeed all of these things will significantly increase the costs, as an example the purchase of aircraft at least two – may have to be considered.
The passenger demand and physical constraints of the air strip will in the end determine the choice of aircraft, additional requirements like where the aircraft are to be based will impact the overall cost. Again as an example, basing the aircraft at Ashaig would allow a better timed service for the passengers. But it would necessitate the construction of a suitable hangar, a cost not allowed for in the original report.
This is the BBC broadcast from the 6th of June, covering the possibility of flights from Skye to Glasgow or Edinburgh. The presenter is actually at Ashaig and presents a slightly different perspective from the STV News article posted earlier in the blog, as you can see from the slightly differing perspective everyone will probably have to make up their own mind on the cost. In truth the costs are unlikely to be known, until the Civil Aviation Authority decides what the air strip requires by way of an upgrade.