HIAL to close its airports to all but a skeleton air service, a decision which will affect Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra.

MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan said: “I think people in the islands will understand why this decision by HIAL has been necessary. Although this is a drastic step - limiting connectivity in the islands in a way not seen for many decades -it is one that is needed in the present emergency.

“The news comes at the same time as CalMac publishes a ‘lifeline’ timetable with significantly fewer sailings to and from all islands, and transport limited to essential travellers.

“HIAL have announced that Loganair will run a skeleton service from Sunday, aimed at ensuring that health services continue to operate, people who are working in the oil industry get to work and the Royal Mail continues to function.

“These are very difficult times for Scotland, both in human and economic terms, and this will be felt in the islands. There is little alternative to today’s announcements, and I know that the Scottish Government is committed to making sure that full transport services are resumed whenever it is safe for that  to happen.”

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) earlier said they would close their airports to scheduled flights and routine general aviation traffic from this Sunday.  "Our communities, in particular those on the islands, rely on our airports for vital services and we are currently working with Transport Scotland and Loganair to agree a skeleton schedule that will ensure our airports continue to provide lifeline and essential services, including NHS passenger transfer, the Royal Mail and the oil and gas industry."

The company operates and manages 11 airports across the country at Campbeltown, Dundee, Islay, Inverness, Kirkwall, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick, as well as the three in the Outer Hebrides.

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, said: “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.”