Flights from 11 airports across Scotland will be grounded this weekend amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday morning, Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) confirmed it would remain open for lifeline and essential services, however bosses were forced to make the “difficult, but necessary, decision” to close its airports to scheduled flights and routine aviation traffic with effect from Sunday.
The move follows strict measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday, urging people to stay at home to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
Hial – which is owned by the Scottish Government – operates and manages Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Dundee, Inverness, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick John O’ Groats airports.
The company said it was doing “all it can to limit the spread of infection, protect the health and wellbeing of its staff and have the necessary resilience in place to maintain its ability to service essential and emergency flights”.
Hial is now working with Transport Scotland and Loganair to agree a skeleton schedule that will ensure the airports continue to provide lifeline and essential services, including NHS passenger transfer, the Royal Mail and to the oil and gas industry.
HIAL’s managing director, Inglis Lyon, said: “Our airports are unique in that their core role is to provide lifeline services for our communities in the Highlands and Islands.
“They are essential to the continued delivery of medical and other critical supplies, the transport of key workers and also enable emergency flights for island communities.
“Now more than ever there is a need to safeguard those vital services.
“I appreciate this crisis is unknown territory for all of us and at this time we do not know how long these essential measures will remain in place.
“We could not maintain these services for our communities without the extraordinary team spirit and commitment displayed by our staff right across the HIAL group and I am indebted to them for their continued flexibility and dedication during a very difficult time for us all.”
Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, added: “Our aviation sector is facing an unprecedented challenge in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, so the Scottish Government is working with industry partners to ensure our lifeline air links continue to operate for the remote communities that depend on them.
“These air routes are crucial for the transport of supplies and key workers, as well as providing a vital link when emergency transport to the mainland is required.
“I also wish to thank all the HIAL staff for their efforts during this difficult time.”