Government bodies in Scotland and Wales are scrambling to fill the holes in local air schedules caused by the collapse into administration of Highland Airways.
Many of the Inverness-based carrier's routes in the Scottish highlands and islands, as well as a single route in Wales, were 'lifeline' services for remote communities, operated with public service obligation subsidies provided by local or regional authorities.
Flybe franchise carrier Loganair has reached an interim agreement with Western Isles Council, which covers islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, to take over two flights each weekday between Stornoway and Benbecula up to 30 April. Further discussions will take place between the airline and council over arrangements beyond that date. Loganair is also offering 'rescue fares' for passengers whose Highland Airways' flights have been cancelled.
Argyll and Bute Council, within whose swathe of western Scotland Highland Airways operated flights between Oban and the islands of Coll, Tiree and Colonsay, says that discussions with potential replacement carriers "are progressing positively" and it hopes to make an announcement "within the next few days".
Deputy first minister of the Welsh Assembly Ieuan Wyn Jones says the authority will be issuing an invitation to tender for a new operator for the Cardiff-Anglesey route on 29 March to provide the service in the short term. "Our aim is to restore the service as soon as possible after the Easter holidays," he says. "Our long-term objective is to appoint a new operator with a four-year contract. We will be doing this through a further tendering process at the European level."
The service had been provided by Highland Airways since 2007 under a Welsh governmental contract worth some £800,000 ($1.1 million) annually.
PricewaterhouseCoopers is joint administrator of the collapsed airline. The company's Bruce Cartwright says that Highland Airways will not be transferred to a new owner "as a business". However, he adds that there has been "a fair amount of interest" in its services. "We've had enquiries on all the routes and it's a case of trying to marry those up with customers' requirements," he says.
Highland Airways' fleet of two British Aerospace Jetstream 41s, seven Jetstream 31s and a single Britten-Norman Islander is mainly leased. Cartwright declines to name the lessors but says he is in contact with them over the future of their aircraft.