Appendix C - Note of stakeholder workshop on Scotland’s domestic connectivity


As part of the Scottish Government’s consultation on developing an aviation strategy officials held a series of virtual meetings with aviation stakeholders to discuss the key themes set out in our discussion document: aviation’s transition to net-zero, Scotland’s international connectivity, Scotland’s domestic connectivity and air freight.

This note summarises the main points from the stakeholder workshop on Scotland's Domestic Connectivity, held on the 8th of December 2021, where participants discussed relevant questions from the consultation document. A summary of each discussion is provided below.

The feedback from all of the stakeholder workshops, together with the responses to the Scottish Government’s online consultation, will inform the development of the Scottish Government’s aviation strategy, which is expected to be published in 2022.


The following individuals and organisations participated in the workshop:

  • Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd
  • Loganair
  • Eastern Airways
  • Argyll & Bute Council
  • Dundee City Council
  • Shetland Islands Council
  • Caithness Chamber of Commerce
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council)


The discussion document explains what the Scottish Government aims to achieve for domestic connectivity, based on existing strategies and commitments:

“Between Scotland and other parts of the UK, and within Scotland, to have low/zero emission air services that meet the needs of communities and help deliver sustainable economic growth.

This includes decarbonising scheduled passenger flights within Scotland by 2040 and having air services in the Highlands and Islands which provide good value for passengers and the tax payer.”

The discussion document contains more detailed information in the Domestic Connectivity section. Brief extracts are provided below, in order to provide context to the stakeholder discussions.


A summary of the main points arising from each discussion is provided below. All comments have been anonymised, as agreed with participants in advance.

Discussion 1: What do you think about the idea of the Scottish Government purchasing new zero emission aircraft and leasing them to any airline operating routes in the Highlands and Islands?


The Scottish Government has committed to work to decarbonise scheduled passenger flights within Scotland by 2040. Electric and/or hydrogen powered aircraft will be key to achieving this. One option to help ensure the early use of these aircraft, is for the Scottish Government to purchase them as they become available on the market, then lease them to the airline(s) operating the routes.

Stakeholder views

  • Airlines and a number of other stakeholders questioned whether the Scottish Government buying and leasing zero emission aircraft would be needed as they expect that private sector aircraft leasing companies would do this more effectively. These companies operate at a far larger scale than the Scottish Government could, giving airlines greater flexibility to continually up-grade aircraft as technology develops.
  • There is also a danger that the Scottish Government invests in a technology that turns out not to be appropriate and wastes public money.
  • While other stakeholders supported the use of these aircraft on intra-Scotland routes, they had concerns about the practicalities of the Scottish Government buying and leasing aircraft, including how to ensure that the aircraft are suitable for the routes, equal access (if there are insufficient aircraft to meet demand how would you decide who gets them) and the risks of inadvertently constraining airlines’ ability to move their assets across their network. One airline said that, should such aircraft be used, the routes would need a PSO (public service obligation).

Discussion 2: What else can the Scottish Government do to achieve its aim of decarbonising scheduled flights within Scotland by 2040?


Highlands and Islands Airports Limited outlined the work they are doing in partnership with others to understand what might be needed to decarbonise flights within Scotland and how they are helping to support the development of low and zero-emission aircraft through the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment at Kirkwall airport. They also reflected on the opportunities for improving air connectivity as a result of these new types of aircraft.

Stakeholder views

  • Saw a role for Scottish Government in helping to put in place the supporting infrastructure needed for these new types of aircraft to operate, including airport infrastructure but also the wider energy system (grid connection, lowering the cost of hydrogen production, hydrogen transportation and storage etc.).
  • When considering the infrastructure needed and the best location for this, need to consider demand from other transport modes and other uses e.g. hydrogen for heating, and link into the work that is already underway in these area. It was suggested that lessons could be learned from EV charging. Also, need to consider what infrastructure is needed at both ends of the route.
  • Using a “contracts for difference” model was also suggested. Government paying the difference in cost between conventional operation and new operation would provide support in the early years but should then become commercially viable.
  • The importance of passenger acceptance of these new types of aircraft was also highlighted – need to get the messaging right.
  • While stakeholders recognised that the regulatory side is reserved to the UK Government, they stressed the importance of the regulatory process keeping up with technological development in order for these new types of aircraft to be able to operate.
  • A few stakeholders suggested that improving public transport to and from airports could be a quick win in terms of reducing emissions.

Discussion 3: What air services are needed to meet the needs of communities in the future?


To help consider what the needs of communities might be in future, three hypothetical scenarios were discussed: less demand, same level of demand and more demand for air services in the Highlands and Islands.

Stakeholder views

Less demand
  • Thought that some air travel would still be needed in this scenario, but perhaps the routes between central Scotland and London/the Midlands would no longer be needed.
  • Highlighted the fact that the NHS is currently a heavy user of the existing air services, both in terms of patients travelling for treatment and NHS staff travelling for their work, and suggested that there needs to be a greater consideration of transportation when making decisions about the provision of health care.
  • Suggested that smaller aircraft could be used, however, this would still need fire service provision etc., which means that meeting the on-going need for air travel would be challenging – as certain fixed costs could not reduce.
  • Some stakeholders suggested that more PSOs would be needed as the reduction in passengers numbers, especially the reduction in business travel, would mean routes would not be commercially viable.
  • Also mentioned that air taxis could provide a different way of meeting the remaining need for air travel (this is covered in more detail in subsequent discussion).
Same level of demand
  • This premise was challenged as it was considered that demand would continue to be low for the foreseeable future as a result of Covid uncertainty, which is also making planning and data interpretation more difficult. It was suggested that making significant changes to PSOs could provide some support with these challenges.
  • There is a difference between community expectations about the cost and frequency of flights in the Highlands and Islands, and what is feasible to deliver given volumes of passengers. Also, actual usage does not always reflect what people say they want from an air service.
More demand
  • It was suggested that new technologies present new opportunities. While airframe costs may be higher, the marginal cost of operating additional services may be lower thereby incentivising the operator to maximise the use of the aircraft. This means more frequencies and possibly more routes. Services such as Glasgow / Edinburgh to Inverness may be viable and environmentally better than the current alternatives.
  • Frequency and availability are key. Using the car is very flexible and resilient. Frequency and reliability are important if air service is to be a viable alternative.
  • Shouldn’t be looking at this as ‘higher demand needs more services’. It should be flipped around. There would be more visitors and residents if there was better connectivity. It should be an outputs based approach. Regional centres need day trips to main urban centres with reasonable time in each location. This should be the minimum service provision. Support mechanisms are needed to achieve that outcome.
  • The number of destinations would be dependent on individual community needs.
  • The core needs of communities are not currently being provided. Same day travel with a reasonable amount of time in each location are needed now.
  • Focus can’t just be on access to the central belt. Inter-regional is important as well.
  • There also needs to be better integration between health and transport.

Discussion 4: other operational models (e.g. air taxis and open charter services)


A number of companies are developing small, low/zero emissions aircraft that can take off and land vertically, and some are planning to use these to operate air taxis services. Passengers would decide what time and where they want to fly to (within the locations served) and then book the aircraft. Open charter services would allow members of the public to fly on an aircraft that has been chartered by an organisation, if there are spare seats.

Stakeholder views

Air taxis/on demand services
  • Saw opportunities and challenges from air taxi services – could meet the needs of certain people but the cost of using these services means that it would not be affordable for everyone.
  • Might not have sufficient volume to make these services viable – would need to have enough people on both legs of the journey.
  • Might also have an impact of the scheduled passenger services if less business travel used them, although this risk could be mitigated by using air taxis on routes where there is no passenger service.
  • As air taxi services are rolled out in other countries, we will have a better understanding of the opportunities (or not) for their use in Scotland – could also do trials/ use cases.
Open charter services
  • While a good idea in theory the practicalities mean it is not a feasible idea and is not, therefore, currently done.
  • Stakeholders found it very difficult to suggest alternatives as the traditional model works well in many circumstances.
  • Mentioned that work was done a number of years ago on a Regional PSO network and said they would welcome a complete review of existing support mechanisms. Is existing spend used optimally to provide services that communities need?
  • Good to encourage competiveness in the network where possible but need a driver of equity to support lifeline services.
  • From a business travel perspective, reliability is very important (strongest issue in Wick work). More so than frequency. Need to be able to plan your journey with certainty.
  • Price models may need to be looked at if there are going to be fewer future passengers (i.e. business travellers) willing to pay for the more expensive tickets that currently support the provision of the less expensive tickets.
  • Airlines need a certain overall yield to make a route commercially viable – lots of people flying cheaply versus a few people buying expensive tickets. The changing weightings could impact overall service provision.
  • The general point was made in an earlier discussion that, should the number of craft on the route network increase substantially, there is a fundamental issue about a lack of available pilots.

Discussion 5: Most air services in the Highlands and Islands are delivered on a commercial basis. How can the Scottish Government best work with the private sector to deliver the air services you think are needed?

Stakeholder views

Airlines outlined what they needed to consider when deciding to operate a route (at a minimum covering their operating costs). This is slightly different to airports, which need passenger volumes. Also noted that some communities may, for example, want a 9 to 5 schedule, which conflicts with what airlines can provide.

The importance of open and honest dialogue between communities, Scottish Government, airlines and airports was stressed, to find the right balance between what communities would ideally want, what is feasible, and the commercial imperatives involved in providing services.

Discussion 6: How effective do you think the Air Discount Scheme has been at addressing high airfares and how can the Scottish Government improve the Scheme?


The Air Discount Scheme gives certain Highlands and Islands residents a discount on eligible routes.

Stakeholder views

There were mixed views on how effective the Air Discount Scheme had been. Some said it was very important to help reduce the cost of living for people in the Highlands and Islands, while others thought it had not achieved its aim and that the Scottish Government should consider whether there is a better way of achieving this.

A number of stakeholders suggested that the Scottish Government should consider how it supports air services in the round (e.g. subsidy for airports, PSOs, air discount scheme, Air Passenger Duty exemption) and how it could use this money in the most effective way to achieve the stated aim of the air discount scheme.

Others suggested changes to the current scheme, such as expanding it to cover business travel and having an “air discount scheme fare” which eligible people could book.

Airlines said this idea would limit their flexibility to adjust prices and thus potentially undermine the viability of the route which in turn would have a negative impact on the community by reducing connectivity.

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