Scotland's domestic connectivity

Scotland's domestic connectivity


Scotland's location and geography mean that air travel plays an important role in providing connectivity within Scotland, and between Scotland and other parts of the UK. This includes onward connectivity to the rest of the world through Heathrow, one of the global hub airports.

According to the 2019 Scottish Household survey, most people who chose flying within the UK over other forms of transport did so because it was quicker, while just over a third did so because it was cheaper. Inverness to London city centre, for example, takes just under four hours[9] using a plane as the main mode of transport, compared to eight and a half hours by train and almost 16 hours by coach. On some of the longer routes the per passenger emissions from flying are higher than other modes of transport. However, on other routes, such as Glasgow to Belfast, the per passenger emissions from flying are lower than most of the alternatives.

Currently, public subsidy is required in order to have air services in the Highlands and Islands, as the airports and some routes cannot be operated on a commercial basis. Please see Context and Annex C for more information.

This section seeks your views on how we can achieve our domestic connectivity aim, including how we can achieve the Scottish Government's commitment to work to decarbonise scheduled passenger flights within Scotland by 2040, and whether the Scottish Government should encourage airlines to offer plane plus train tickets.

This will help deliver three of the priorities of the National Transport Strategy (reduces inequalities, takes climate action, helps deliver inclusive economic growth).

The Transition to Low and Zero Emission Aviation section covers reducing the environmental impact of aviation as a whole.


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.

How to achieve this aim

Decarbonising scheduled flights within Scotland

The short distances and low passenger volumes on many of the scheduled flights within Scotland mean they are ideally suited to early adoption of zero and low emission aircraft. However, as most scheduled passenger flights in Scotland are operated on a commercial basis, the airlines rather than the Scottish Government decide what aircraft they will use on their routes.

One option to help ensure the early use of zero and low emission aircraft on routes in the Highland and Islands, is for the Scottish Government to purchase new zero emission aircraft as they become available on the market, then lease them to the airline(s) operating the routes. This means that the airline(s) does not need to make the initial capital expenditure, but can still benefit from the lower operating costs of using these kinds of aircraft. It also means that, through the leasing costs, the Scottish Government will be able to recoup the costs of the initial investment, whilst accelerating the transition to low and zero emission aircraft. Lower operating costs compared to conventional aircraft may also lead to a reduction in airfares. This is similar to the current arrangement where HIAL owns two Twin Otter aircraft and leases them to Loganair to operate the three Transport Scotland PSO routes.

Case Study – Norway

Norway is aiming for the first regular domestic scheduled flights to be operated with electrified aircraft by 2030.

Avinor (which is responsible for Norway's 44 state owned airports) and the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority have developed a program for the introduction of electrified aircraft. It has also recently purchased a new electric aircraft that can be used for things like pilot training.

8. 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?

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

Future needs of communities in the Highlands and Islands

It is extremely difficult to predict accurately the future air transport needs of communities in the Highlands and Islands. To help consider this question we have drawn up three possible scenarios. While we are not certain which, if any, of these scenarios will actually come to pass, thinking about what air connectivity we might need in these different scenarios should help plan for the future.

These are hypothetical scenarios to generate a discussion. They are not outcomes that the Scottish Government is working towards.

Less Demand for air services

Same level of demand for air services

More demand for air services

  • Greater use of video-conferencing and other technology
  • Telemedicine
  • Focus on higher spending tourists rather than volume
  • Improved facilities on islands
  • High speed rail
  • Medical supplies and post delivered by drone
  • Improvement in ferry provision and/or fixed links
  • Around the same number of people living and working in the Highland and Islands
  • No changes to current travel patterns
  • No changes to how goods are transported
  • More people living and working in the Highlands and Islands (e.g. because of growth of the energy sector, more home and remote working, more small business start-ups etc.)
  • More tourists
  • Lower costs as a result of using electric/hydrogen aircraft
  • Modal shift from ferry to plane
  • More goods transported in belly hold/ dedicated air freight

10. What air services do you think are needed to meet the needs of people living in and visiting the Highland and Islands in the scenarios set out above:

  • a. less demand for air services
  • b. same level of demand for air services
  • c. more demand for air services?
Air services and fares in the Highlands and Islands

Air services in the Highlands and Islands generally operate on a commercial basis with some intervention from the public sector. Over time there has been a consolidation in the market so that the majority of commercial services are now flown by a single airline.

11. 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?

The cost of flying was one of the issues raised by a number of island communities in the consultation on the Scottish Government's National Islands Plan. Air services have high fixed costs but whether this results in high airfares depends on the number of passengers on the aircraft. With more passengers each person pays less as the costs are split between them. However, with fewer passengers the cost per person is higher. In the Highlands and Islands even the busier routes have relatively low passenger numbers over which to spread costs. This leads to fares that are higher than what passengers would likely pay on longer, busier routes.

The Scottish Government has sought to address the cost of flying in the region through the subsidy of HIAL and through the operation of the Air Discount Scheme. The scheme gives certain Highlands and Islands residents a discount on eligible routes. In addition, flights departing from airports in the Highlands and Islands are exempt from the UK's Air Passenger Duty.

12. How effective do you think the Air Discount Scheme has been at addressing high airfares?

13. How can the Scottish Government improve the Air Discount Scheme?

Complementing scheduled passenger service in the Highlands and Islands with different operating models for air services could also help reduce costs and/or improve frequency and choice of destination. Currently, most people use scheduled passenger services, where the airline operates a fixed schedule of when and where they fly, and people book onto the flight they want. However, there are other, complementary, ways to deliver air services, including:

  • Air taxi – these would be services that are more demand responsive ('on demand') and likely with smaller aircraft. They would not be expected to operate to a set timetable. While there are currently no air taxi services operating in the UK, there are plans to operate air taxis in other countries within the next couple of years.
  • Open charter services – this would see organisations with larger travel requirements (e.g. the NHS or the oil & gas industry) providing a base level of demand for a service which operates with timings optimal to that organisation. Rather than being a closed charter, though, the service would be open to members of the public to book as well.

How an on demand service might work

Companies are expected to run on demand air services, like air taxis, in different ways. Air taxis will be very small aircraft that are likely to be fully-electric or hydrogen powered.

Below is an example of what this might look like from the point of view of a passenger, to help answer question 14 below:

  • Decide where you want to go and when
  • Order your air taxi (option to share the air taxi with others)
  • Go to the airport/ other location and get your air taxi
  • Land at destination

How an open charter service might work

There are a lot of options for how an open charter might work. It is expected that an open charter aircraft will be bigger than an air taxi, but this will depend on what the company commissioning the open charter chooses.

To help answer question 15, here is an example of what this might look like from the point of view of a passenger:

  • Your company decides that it needs a number of colleagues to travel every week from X to Y
  • Your company then charters a plane to fly you and your colleagues every week from X to Y
  • People who don't work at your company can see when these flights are and can book on to them if they also want to go
  • You, your colleagues and members of the public go to the airport and fly to Y.

14. What do you think about complementing the current operating model with an on demand service, such as air taxi?

15. What do you think about an open charter service?

16. Apart from on demand and open charter services are there any operational models you think could be used? If so, what?

Highlands and Islands Airports

Airport services for scheduled passenger air services in the Highlands and Islands are currently provided by HIAL, Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Argyll & Bute Council. The table below sets out which airports each manages.

None of the airports operated by these bodies can currently run on a commercial basis and all require subsidy to maintain operations. 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.

Table 2: Airport management in the Highlands and Islands



Shetland Islands Council

Orkney Islands Council

Argyll & Bute Council












Wick John O' Groats

Fair Isle


Out Skerries

Papa Stour




North Ronaldsay

Papa Westray







17. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the operational model set out in the table above?

18. What changes, if any, do you think should be made to these governance arrangements to improve services?

19. What changes, if any, do you think should be made to these governance arrangements to reduce running costs?

Plane plus train tickets

In the EU, some airlines sell plane-train tickets where people travel by train for one part of their journey and fly for the other. The aim of these tickets is to make it easier for people to combine different modes of transport in order to reduce the total emissions from the journey.

These types of tickets could be used in Scotland for travel to and from the airport as well as at a later date. The same ticket could encourage visitors to go to other parts of Scotland, for example, fly to central Scotland, spend a few days there, and then travel to Aviemore by train.

The Scottish Government could encourage airlines to offer plane plus train tickets, however, it would ultimately be a decision for the airlines whether to do so (see section on responsibilities for more detail).

20. Do you think the Scottish Government should encourage airlines to offer plane plus train tickets?

  • a) Yes
  • b) No
  • c) Don't know

21. If yes, how do you think the Scottish Government could best do this?


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