Target to make Highlands and Islands an aviation carbon-free zone “very challenging”

A Western Isles councillor has warned that much still needs to be done in order to meet the Scottish Government ambition of establishing the Highlands and Islands as an aviation carbon-free zone.

The ambitious target was unveiled last month as part of the SNP’s programme for government and will involve pioneering electric plane technology in the north from 2021.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hailed it as a “bold move” which comes as part of a series of other measures to help tackle the declared “climate emergency”.

Councillor Uisdean Robertson, chairman of the transportation committee on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “This is going to be very challenging. We had a meeting with Loganair in the past fortnight to try to find out what information they had on it and they only heard about it the week before it was announced.

“Having said that, they were quite comfortable with it as they were already looking at electric-powered planes and biofuels.

“We ourselves as a council are exploring opportunities in relation to hydrogen and we’ve also had recent discussions with the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.”

Loganair, which operates the air services in the Highlands and Islands, hope to pioneer an electric-powered plane on the short 1.7-mile journey between Westray and Papay Westray in Orkney by 2021. However, extending the technology to larger planes on longer routes will represent a far greater challenge.

“There is still a lot of work and research to be done on this,” said Mr Robertson. “We are moving forward but it’s going to take time.”

Mr Robertson added that it was too early to say whether the deployment of new technologies would mean more expensive services.

“We have made it clear to the Scottish Government that while we fully support the move to more carbon-friendly transport services, there has to be a recognition of the particular economic challenges that the islands face,” he said.

Article by Murray MacLeod.