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Stephen Welcomes New Cross-Border Flight For Highlands 8 September 03
The £6.8 million Route Development Fund will invest in a new direct flight from Inverness to Birmingham, Transport Minister Nicol Stephen said today.

Mr Stephen, who will tonight make the announcement in Edinburgh at the opening reception of the 9th Annual World Route Development Forum, which is the premiere international airline networking event. He said UK regional airline, Eastern Airways, would start the twice-daily service in November.

The Executive’s Route Development Fund was set up last November to help secure new direct air services to Scotland, with today’s announcement bringing the total number of supported routes to twelve.

Mr Stephen said: “Direct links between Inverness and Birmingham will provide better business opportunities for the north of Scotland as well as offering a boost to the Highland’s tourism industry. “Support for this service demonstrates the Executive’s commitment to extending the benefits of the Route Development Fund to the whole of Scotland.

“I am pleased to be able to make this announcement at the 9th Annual Route Development Forum, which has bought more than 1,000 of the air industry’s key decision-makers to Edinburgh. The Executive is committed to extending the number of direct flights to Scotland through the Fund and to capitalise on the expected benefits from the Routes Forum."

The new route was secured with investment from the Executive’s Route Development Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Highland Islands Airports Limited.

HIE Transport Policy Manager, Tom Matthew, said: “We very much welcome the development of more direct air services to our region.  This service will benefit businesses and communities in the Inverness area and further afield.  The support the HIE Network has provided in addition to that from the Route Development Fund shows our strong commitment to improving our region’s connectivity”

Eastern Airways will start the route on 26 October 2003. Flights will operate twice a day, Monday to Friday with 18-seat Jetstream 32 aircraft.  Lead in fares will be £180 return.  The Inverness-Birmingham service is the 12th new route to be supported by the RDF and will be principally aimed at business travellers, providing a vital link into the Midlands for enterprises in the North of Scotland and promoting economic development in the region. The flights will enable travellers to conduct a day’s business in either the Midlands or Highlands and return home the same day.

The deal follows negotiations between the airline and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited and is being supported by the Route Development Fund (RDF), Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Inverness and Nairn Enterprise (INE).

Graeme Ross, Eastern Airways director Scotland said: “Eastern launched Inverness-Manchester in November last year and the route has truly exceeded expectations. When we launched Inverness-Manchester we identified that Birmingham would be the next destination.  True to our word we are delivering and we look forward, working in close partnership with Highlands and Islands Airports, to making a success of this important new service to Birmingham, in the heart of England.” 

“Like Manchester, Birmingham has a strong catchment area, with eight million people living within an hour’s travel time of the airport.” he added.

Bob Macleod, managing director of Highlands and Islands Airport said: “We worked closely with Eastern Airways last year on the launch of their Inverness to Manchester service and this proved to be a huge success. We have been talking to the airline about Birmingham for over a year and I am delighted that Eastern Airways are now introducing the route in the autumn.

“Good air links for business are vital in remoter regions like the Highlands and I am certain this new service to Birmingham will also receive strong support from travellers in the region as well as bringing inward business from the Midlands. Eastern is an expanding airline and we are very pleased that they are expanding the portfolio of regional destinations they serve with this link to Birmingham.

“Passenger numbers at Inverness are growing at a rate of almost 20% this year and the Route Development Fund, managed by Scottish Enterprise, is enabling us to target an increasing range of potential routes with airlines. We will continue to work closely with the enterprise network to ensure maximum support is available to attract new air services to the region’s airports.”

The Route Development Fund is part-funded by HIE. HIE’s transport policy manager, Tom Matthew, said the new service would be a boon for business travellers in particular travelling to the Midlands and beyond.

“This is another good cross-border connection for our region, adding to those which already exist to Gatwick, Luton and Manchester,” said Mr Matthew.

“It’s the third new service to be launched within the last year between Inverness and England. This new service will offer opportunities to connect with the wide range of international services out of Birmingham. It also underlines the potential to increase the range of direct services to and from the Highlands and Islands.”

Local enterprise company INE is supporting Eastern Airways with a £60,000 grant to recruit and train six pilots for the service. 

INE chief executive Stuart Black said the airline’s commitment was further evidence that Inverness Airport is on the up.

“Just a year ago, there were only two daily services between Inverness and England,” said Mr Black. “With the introduction of the Birmingham service, that total rises to five. That’s a sure sign of business confidence in Inverness and the Moray Firth and INE is pleased to be aiding a project which will bring benefits to the wider Highlands.”

The Route Development Fund is provided through the recent Scottish budget resources with £5 million from the budget, £500,000 from the Integrated Transport Fund, £1 million from Scottish Enterprise and £300,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The fund is operated in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, VisitScotland.  Scottish Enterprise administers the main fund on the Executive's behalf.  In the Highlands and Islands it is administered by a Steering Group which includes the Executive and HIE.

The Annual World Route Development Forum brings airport and airline delegates together over a 3-day period to discuss new and enhanced route development opportunities. Delegates from an expected 200 airlines and more than 250 airports will attend the event in Edinburgh between 7-9 September. “Routes” is the largest gathering of airline network planners assembled together at any one time, with more than 1,000 delegates attending. Previous hosts include:  Cannes 1995, Abu Dhabi 1996, Oslo 1997, London 1998, Rome 1999, Amsterdam 2000, Dublin 2001 and Athens 2002, at which the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning was present..