Inverness Gatwick Air Link
13 December 2001

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Almost 1,400 jobs could go in the Highlands if the area were to lose its air link between Inverness and London's Gatwick airport. The longer term impacts could be even greater if any withdrawal of service affected business confidence and made the area appear more peripheral to decision makers.

These are the key findings of a new study, published today (Thursday 13th December) which underlines the strong economic arguments in favour of protecting the Gatwick connection. The report has been prepared on behalf of an action group including: the Highlands and Islands Enterprise network (HIE); The Highland Council; The Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI); and the Inverness Chamber of Commerce.

The survey was carried out in October this year involving telephone interviews with 260 businesses from throughout the Highland Council and West Moray areas.


Outwith this area - in Argyll, or the Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles, alternative air transport links are available offering onward connection via Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen.  The study findings have been broken down to reflect the impacts on the general business community, with separate consideration being given to the vital tourism sector. For general businesses the report concludes that 719 jobs could be lost, in the short to medium term, if the Gatwick connection were lost - this is in addition to an estimated 253 jobs which would be under threat in tourism businesses, and 62 jobs which would be directly affected by any service reduction at Inverness airport. The 'knock-on' effects of these losses are put at some 359 jobs.

According to the report's authors, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, these findings underline the importance of good air services as drivers for economic growth. They encourage inward investment - especially amongst the 'knowledge based' industries who are heavy users of air services, they allow easier access to markets and they make it easier to attract high-value tourist visitors to an area. Conversely losing such a connection could lead to reduced investment and the relocation of staff to other areas. It would also make it more difficult for companies operating in the Highlands to penetrate other markets - such as the South East of England or Europe.

The non-tourism companies interviewed generate over 28,000 round trips on the Inverness - Gatwick service each year, accounting for some 38 per cent of this traffic. In addition freight and package usage was identified as an important benefit by 14 per cent of respondents. Interlining - using Gatwick to make connections to onward flights - was also seen as very important, accounting for just over half of business travel among the survey respondents.  For tourism businesses, of those visitors who do use the service, more than half were international tourists who depended on connections through Gatwick to get to and from the area.

HIE's director of strategy Sandy Brady said: "To some extent these findings will come as no great surprise to anyone who understands the local economy, however its value is in making this case in clear and unequivocal terms to those who have the power to safeguard these vital links, and who may not fully understand the significance of the Gatwick connections.  "There is no doubt whatsoever that the availability of frequent and reliable connections to London are an important cornerstone of the growth that's been achieved in this area over the last few years - they are especially important to our 'first division' companies, those with larger turnover and staff numbers. To retain these companies, and allow them to grow we need to have this connection safeguarded."

Giving his backing to the ongoing campaign to secure the future of the Gatwick connection, Highland Council Convener David Green said: "The results of the survey are very significant in helping us reinforce the importance of the Gatwick service and the access it gives us to world destinations. 

"The findings underpin our case for a Public Service Obligation to be placed on the route. Once this is safely behind us, we can concentrate on the task of building up Inverness Airport as a key regional growth point, and thereby adding to the traffic and services."

Area manager for the SCDI Ewen Gabriel said: "This report clearly shows that indigenous and incoming businesses would not tolerate the loss of their main London air services hub. The retention of the existing Gatwick slots for Inverness are therefore vital to the Highland economy and the well-being of its local communities. The information in this report should enable Ministers to grant a PSO (Public Service Obligation) on the route."

Director of the Inverness Chamber of Commerce Simon Cole-Hamilton said: "This Gatwick route is the most important air connection for our business community. Despite the high fares, more people use this route than any other out of Inverness. It is our air corridor to the rest of the world, and without it the progress which the Highland economy has achieved in recent years would be seriously compromised. Thousands of jobs created here through successful inward investment projects would not have happened if we had not had credible air services to the south-east and internationally."

The most effective way in which the Gatwick connection could be protected would be through the designation of a PSO (Public Service Obligation) on the route. This would guarantee landing and take-off slots for a service to and from Inverness, irrespective of which carrier operated the route. The case for a PSO has been accepted by the Scottish Executive and is currently the subject of discussions between the Executive and the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) - who would need to take any final decision. This is expected early next year.

At a meeting held earlier this year Aviation Minister David Jamieson asked the partners involved in the Gatwick campaign to provide hard evidence backing up the economic case for a PSO. This study provides that evidence and has been sent to the Scottish Executive, who will in turn pass it on to the DTLR.

This report will be sent to the Scottish Executive and then to the DTLR - and a decision iis expected in January.

Read Executive Summary of Report