Air fares discount scheme extended but business travel to remain ineligible
A Scottish Government-backed discount scheme that subsidises the cost of air fares for travellers living in Scotland’s island and remote communities has been renewed and extended until the end of 2020.
The Air Discount Scheme (ADS) provides a fifty per-cent discount on air fares for residents of the qualifying areas and, from April, eligibility for the scheme is being extended to include all of Caithness and further parts of Sutherland.
The ADS scheme will also now be available to students studying in the eligible areas whose main residence is elsewhere, but campaigners have expressed disappointment that the scheme has been renewed without an extension to include business travellers.
Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson said: “We know the Air Discount Scheme is very popular and plays a vital role in keeping our remote communities connected, so I’m delighted we can announce its renewal and extension.
“We also want to encourage people to come to these areas to study, so students at the seven colleges within the eligible areas will now also be able to sign up to the scheme.
“This announcement directly tackles the issue of high air fares in the Highlands and Islands and underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting our remote communities.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, who have campaigned for business travel to be eligible for the ADS scheme, said: “We welcome confirmation that the Air Discount Scheme, first introduced by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition in 2001, is to continue in place. Over the years, it has been a real benefit to islanders, faced with the high cost of accessing their lifeline air services.
“For weeks, though, we have been pressing ministers to make an announcement on the future of the scheme. There seems no good reason why islanders have had to wait until the last minute for confirmation that flights will continue to be covered under the scheme.
“Even now, the decision to roll over the current arrangements until the end of 2020 falls far short of past commitments of four years. We will seek assurances that the continuation of this vital scheme after that date is not in doubt.
“Meantime, the continued refusal of SNP Ministers to reverse their earlier decision to exclude business-related travel from the scheme is disappointing. This undermines efforts to allow isles businesses to compete on a more level playing field with counterparts on the Scottish mainland.”
Cllr Uisdean Roberston, Chair of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee, also welcomed the announcement, and said: “The Comhairle has long campaigned for an extension to ADS which would include those studying in the Islands but with their main residence elsewhere and I am delighted that the Scottish Government has listened to the case we have made.
“We have also asked that businesses be included under the scheme but so far this has not been accepted. Still, this is a very positive development in extending the scheme.”
Travel for business purposes was originally eligible as part of the ADS, but was removed in 2011.
Scottish Government ministers have previously ruled out reintroducing business travel to the ADS scheme on the grounds of cost.
In 2016, the subsidy offered under the scheme rose from 40 per-cent to 50 per-cent in response to the increasing costs of air travel to the eligible areas.