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8 January 2008

Air Discount Scheme

The Scottish Government will begin the process today of securing European Commission approval to continue the Air Discount Scheme beyond 2008.

The Air Discount Scheme gives residents of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, Islay, Jura, Caithness and North West Sutherland a 40 per cent discount on the price of core air fares.

Membership of the Scheme across Scotland is already at 87 per cent and the Scottish Government wants the Scheme to continue.

If approved by the Commission, the discount would be secured until March 2011.

The Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"The Air Discount Scheme is less than two years old, but it has had a very encouraging start, bringing cheaper air travel, reduced journey times and more accessibility to communities across the Highlands and Islands.

"The Scottish Government wants that to continue.

"For Scotland's most remote communities, air travel can at times be the only practical way of travelling.

"The ADS allows them to do that more easily and cheaply and we want to ensure families and individuals can continue to benefit in the years to come.

"Discussions with the European Commission will be based around a three year approval, and we are confident that this will present no difficulties for the Commission.

"If approved, this Scottish Government will continue to look at ways of improving the Scheme and increasing take-up even further."

The Air Discount Scheme was established in May 2006 in recognition of the high fares that can apply on those commercially viable air services in the Highlands and Islands.

The Scheme provides a 40 per cent discount on the core air fare for those residents of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, Islay, Jura, Caithness and North West Sutherland registered under the Scheme.

The ADS was introduced under the European Commission's Aid of a Social Character mechanism as a means of facilitating a greater level of social inclusion in these areas by making air travel cheaper and more accessible and thereby reducing journey times for residents travelling within these areas and to and from the main economic, administrative and population centres of Scotland.

The choices faced by these communities were typical journeys of a long duration or expensive air fares.

A brief analysis on the impact of the ADS so far was conducted by Halcrow on behalf of the Scottish Government between September and December 2007. This showed that since the Scheme's introduction in May 2006, there have been significant increases in patronage on some ADS related services and significant increases in the frequency and capacity of these services. This research is now being finalised and will be published shortly.

Current European Commission approval for the ADS runs until March 31, 2008. New approval will result in the ADS continuing for a further three years, taking it to March 31, 2011.

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