Appendix D - Note of stakeholder workshop on Highlands and Islands governance arrangements


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 Highlands and Islands governance arrangements, held on the 10th of December 2021, where participants discussed relevant questions from the consultation document. A summary of the 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:

  • Orkney Island Council
  • Shetland Island Council
  • Argyll and Bute Council
  • Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL)


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”.

This particular workshop considered the specific issue of airport services for scheduled passenger air services in the Highlands and Islands, which are currently provided by HIAL, Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Argyll & Bute Council.

The consultation document notes that the “current model provides each body with direct control over the facilities they manage, however, having four different airport operators in the region means that it is more difficult to achieve economies of scale, for example, through bulk buying of equipment”.

Further information is available in the consultation document.


Stakeholder views

  • Council officers highlighted various advantages of the current airport model, primarily that local authority operation of airports provides a high level of democratic accountability and an ability to respond quickly to local issues and concerns. Airport infrastructure is also a critical part of island sustainability, which can be built into wider community planning.
  • HIAL’s close working relationship with Transport Scotland was emphasised; it allows HIAL to react quickly to challenges within its network and to deliver Transport Scotland’s objectives. In contrast, councils do not have a close relationship with Transport Scotland and are not therefore able to exert the same strategic influence.
  • Councils face various other challenges with the existing set up, particularly around funding. Aviation is a specialist and disproportionately resource intensive area as seen, for example, in the regulation by and relationships with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Local authority officers are also having to deal with ferries, bus, roads, etc.
  • Population trends on some islands can make it difficult to recruit and maintain appropriate airport staff. Decoupling pay scales from standard ‘civil service’ scales may help to create a wider pool of people by more accurately reflecting the market for these types of jobs.
  • Specific infrastructure challenges were also noted, for example, that the length of some runways restricts the type of aircraft that they can accommodate.
  • One participant questioned whether innovation in aviation actually exists in Scotland, suggesting we are duplicating effort that is happening elsewhere and are risk-averse.
  • There are fundamental questions about the nature of the current networks and whether they represent simply the accretion of practice over decades, rather than being the most effective service model for Scotland. It would be instructive to examine – and be more transparent about – how much public money from councils and Transport Scotland is subsidising airports.
  • Participants saw merit in establishing a coherent, pan-Scotland approach to dealing with the complexities of ensuring connectivity and effective resource management. There is a massive opportunity to achieve standardisation in the provision of certain service across airports in the Highlands and Islands, for example, training and recruitment, infrastructure, fire services, operating hours, insurance, uniforms, etc. This could help to achieve economies of scale.
  • Having one accountable manager for relationships with the CAA could lead to a more straightforward relationship between the airports and their Regulator as well as driving a more consistent approach to operations and compliance with regulatory requirements. It could also enable a more effective response to proposed changes in the Regulatory Regime such as the CAA’s modernisation plans.
  • There could also be an opportunity to simplify the complex administration of Public Service Obligations (PSOs), which are let by various local authorities. However, the risk of adopting a ‘one size fits all’, overly centralised approach was highlighted.
  • The need for some kind of central innovation driver was suggested, as all air services, no matter how remote or specialist, will have to take action to deal with environmental demands. However, local airports are not large enough to drive the technological changes required.
  • While there was support for some kind of standardisation, particularly within the context of budget constraints, it was stressed that local authorities would be strongly against any change perceived as being about centralisation and would want to ensure that local influence were retained under any new model.
  • There was also a recognition that changing the current model alone would not be sufficient to address some of the challenges local authorities face with the delivery of airport services.
  • There is a danger of believing that the new model should involve either everything being done centrally, or everything being done in local communities. Rather, there is an opportunity to create a new model that incorporates the local influence and realises the benefits of being part of a larger organisation. Local communities could retain responsibility for matters such as air services, including local flight timetables, while the day to day operation of airports could be managed separately.
  • One suggestion was that a peer network would allow the bodies involved to benefit from each other’s knowledge and expertise, and work together when needed.
  • Participants considered that there was merit in Transport Scotland making initial, more detailed proposals for how any new model could work. This could involve analysing existing infrastructure; public funding; and whether current arrangements are optimal for a strategic Scottish air network.
  • Stakeholders warned that there was a disconnect between Transport Scotland’s second Strategic Transport Projects Review and aviation. There has to be integration between the aviation strategy and the proposed islands connectivity plan, rather than transport modes being considered in isolation.

< Previous |  Contents |  Next >