Friday, June 20, 2014

Foula flights halted over lack of fire cover

The Foula community has been left without a plane service this week – because the isle’s airstrip service cannot provide a fire crew.

In order to run flights the airstrip must have a fire service in attendance. But insurance for the Foula fire crew has lapsed, meaning they are not allowed to work.

The issue came to light on Saturday morning, according to SIC transport chief Michael Craigie, after the last scheduled flight of the week in and out of the isle last Friday. Since then there have been no plane movements – normally there are flights on four days a week. Extra ferry runs are being laid on meantime.

Mr Craigie said insurance was arranged by the Foula Airstrip Trust, which is grant-funded by the council, and he was working with them to sort the issue out. He added that the council has an interest in making sure the flights operate as soon as possible.

Chairman and spokesman for Foula Airstrip Trust Magnus Gear issued the following statement: “Foula Airstrip Trust operates and maintains Foula Airstrip on behalf of and for the benefit of the Foula community.

During the annual renewal process for the trust’s insurance policy, it became apparent that the level of insurance held by the trust was not adequate for the fire cover provided at Foula Airstrip for aircraft movements.

“Foula Airstrip Trust is working closely with and under the guidance of SIC’s transport department to resolve the issue, to ensure the lifeline air link to Foula can be re-instated as quickly as possible. The trust is very grateful to the SIC’s transport and infrastructure departments for the invaluable assistance in this matter.

“Foula ferry operators BK Marine are assisting the community, local business and infrastructure by providing extra boat trips to the island to fill the transport gap left by the lack of aircraft movements.”

In spite of the extra runs, residents are already finding the lack of flights frustrating and limiting. Resident Magnus Holbourn, who is also an airstrip trustee, said the insurance was a “complicated” issue.

He said: “I hope the situation will be resolved as quickly as possible, planes are something the Foula community relies on very heavily. When they ceased coming inon Monday there was an immediate effect on the island.”

Some freight comes in by air, he said, but also small essential items such as prescriptions, which have now had to be re-routed to the ferry.

The situation also could affect the tourist trade. Mr Holbourn said most tourists opt to fly, being unwilling to undertake the boat trip of several hours, weather permitting. Workmen also travel to the island by air.

This could affect the progress of the civil work going on in the island, upgrading the electricity and water schemes.

Marjorie Williamson of BK Marine said the Foula vessel New Advance would continue its schedule of three round trips a week, with their stand-by vessel Koada standing in on other days if required.

Mrs Williamson said: “The council asked us to do extra runs and these are being co-ordinated by Foula. We are quite happy to help out.” She added she had no idea how long the situation would last.

The lack of fire crews would not affect helicopter landings for medical emergencies, Shetland Coastguard said.

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