Inverness - Heathrow Cancellation Calendar of Chaos

17 November 1997 - British regional Airlines starts flying from Inverness to Gatwick. The first plane arrives 15 minutes late.

16 November 1997 - D-DAY - All Inverness to Heathrow flights are cancelled. Passengers at Inverness airport express their total frustration.

12 November 1997 - The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee sits after summoning Robert Ayling, Chief Executive of British Airways, to attend. But Mr. Ayling tells the MPs that he will not back down and that the new service from Gatwick airport will go ahead and it will be run by British Regional Airlines.

He said of Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar's compromise solution (involving running just one Inverness flight a day to Heathrow) that it was not "a commercially satisfactory alternative". He also revealed that Inverness' slots at Heathrow had already been reallocated by BA to additional services to Berlin, Stuttgart and Venice. He declined to guarantee the future of flights between Aberdeen and Heathrow.

Speaking in a House of Commons now ruled by a Labour Government, Mr. Ayling ruled out handing the Inverness slots at Heathrow to another airline more willing to operate them. He blamed the situation on former Tory Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind when he was Transport Secretary for opening up Heathrow to competition from foreign airlines and indicated that BA was forced to build up Gatwick as an alternative.

Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar manoeuvred out of a position of intervening in a decisive manner but pledged his support for Highland Council.

Campaigners accepted that BA would go ahead with the cancellations in four days time but remained resolute: Highland Council Convener Peter Peacock said "we have clearly put the whole question of BA's way of operating and the policy on regional transport much higher up the political agenda".
"British Airways have not heard the last of this issue."
Iain Robertson, Chief Executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) said "the only resource we are interested in is a plane to Heathrow".
Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber Labour MP David Stewart said "we may have lost this battle but we have not lost the war". 11 November 1997 - Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar writes to BA Chief Executive Robert Ayling to suggest that BA compromises by retaining one Heathrow flight a day (instead of the full three.

Campaigners in the fight to save the vital flights meet BA's Chief Executive in Glasgow. The meeting is reported as being acrimonious and Highlands & Islands Enterprise Chief Executive, Iain Robertson, says "we have seen no acceptable reason for the loss of the slots which are resources this area needs and we are determined to see maintained." But British Airways make no concessions whatsoever and say that the Inverness - Heathrow flights will end in five days time.

Ackergill Hotel near Wick said it lost 2,500 when a weekend house party for some German guests was cancelled. Apparently the guests changed their minds about the booking when they learned that the flight to Inverness from Frankfurt would involve an extra night's stay in London. This was because they would have needed to travel from Frankfurt to Heathrow then to Gatwick and then to Inverness but they would have missed the last Gatwick flight on the same day.

5 November 1997 - easyJet warns British Airways of possible legal action if it goes ahead with a no-frills low cost competitive airline. Virgin Group also expresses concerns. There is a widespread fear that BA could use its dominant position and size to destroy smaller competitive airlines to the eventual detriment of consumers.

2 November 1997 - BUY SHARES IN British Airways urges Highland Council. The idea behind the scheme is to fill up the ranks of BA shareholders with people and organisations forcing the issue of the lost Inverness - Heathrow service. Western Isle Council, which has held BA shares for 18 months welcomes the move and Highland Council Convener Peter Peacock pledges to look into the Council's possible ownership of shares via its pension fund.

28 October 1997 - Richard Branson, renowned boss of Virgin Group, offers to operate the Inverness - Heathrow flights to be axed by British Airways. Virgin Group's director Will Whitehorn said Virgin had warned what would happen in 1992 when British Airways took over the route from Dan Air.

Robert Ayling, BA's Chief Executive confirmed his meeting with Highland Council but said his agenda was to "jointly promote the Inverness-Gatwick service".

Sadly, New Labour's Transport Secretary Glenda Jackson ignores all requests to intervene and only offers to write a letter to British Airway's Chief Executive Robert Ayling to express her concern at the lack of consultation.

Highland Trade Fair at Aviemore's organiser criticised BA's decision. Kathleen Hardie, managing director of Made In Scotland said the decision could adversely affect many of the 800 exhibitors.

28 October 1997 - Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise unveil an independent report which they commissioned. The report states that 60 jobs will be lost and 1.3million a year in tourist revenue will go down the plughole if BA cancels the Inverness flights. The report by DTZ Pieda Consulting and Independent Northern Consultants states that the 95 seat BAE 146 aircraft to be run to Gatwick by British Regional Airlines will be inadequate. It further states that they compare unfavourably with the 141 seat Boeing 737 currently run to Heathrow.

The report states that Inverness - Heathrow service has seen a 58% increase in passenger numbers since 1990 and that Heathrow services 204 international destinations compared with Gatwick's 160.

21 October 1997 - Highland Council Convener Peter Peacock leads a delegation to meet Transport Secretary Glenda Jackson. The Regional Airlinks to Heathrow Group (RATH) states that government has a role in ensuring that the regional economic well being is protected by ensuring they have access to the world wide air hub - Heathrow.

20 October 1997 - Warnings issued to business and community leaders across the country as fears grow that Inverness may be just the first in a line of Heathrow link losers. Charles Kennedy MP was left stranded at Inverness Airport as another British Regional Airlines (BRA) flight to Lerwick was delayed due to mechanical failure.

Peter Burrows, business and industrial development manager with Plymouth City Council spoke of their loss of a Heathrow slot in favour of Gatwick six months earlier. He said a lot of regions would need to watch out if government did not intervene to protect them. He said that businesses in his area had feared adverse effects and these fears had been confirmed.

A British Airways spokeswoman ignored weekend speculation that BA's merger with American Airlines was on the rocks. There had been speculation that BA's landing slots at Heathrow, including the doomed Inverness ones, was a bargaining chip in the company's negotiations. The spokeswoman said that the cancellation of the Inverness flights was solely due to the losses it made which, she said, were expected to total 12million up to 17th November 1997.

16 October 1997 - The Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, fails to persuade British Airways to change its mind about ditching Inverness - Heathrow flights. BA won't even compromise and its Chief Executive Robert Ayling states "I was able to see [Donald Dewar] and explain the reasons why we decided to do what we had."

Mr. Dewar stated "I called upon Mr. Ayling and the board to reconsider urgently the decision.
I told him that the move has come as a bitter blow to the business community not only for its impact upon passengers but also on freight.
Tourism agencies have also expressed alarm and doubt that the proposed replacement service will be able to cope with demand, particularly during the summer months." The fight escalates. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) announce its intention to protest to the European Commission about BA's decision to scrap Inverness - Heathrow flights. 13 October 1997 - Highland Health Board and Cromarty Economic Forum give full support to campaign to stop BA from scrapping the Inverness - Heathrow link. Dr. Gordon Stone stated his fear that living standards in parts of the Highlands would drop.

Councillor Margaret Paterson, Ross and Cromarty area committee chairwoman, spoke of her fears of the impact of BA's actions on the oil fabrication industry in the Highlands.

A report, commissioned by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. and revealed exclusively in the Press and Journal showed how the airline could have made a profit of 1000 per flight to and from Inverness. However, BA later denied the claim.

10 October 1997 - David Noble, Chief Executive of the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board (HOST) warns of the "risk if we got involved in a very long-term trench warfare." He felt that the committed traveller would always find a way to reach the Highlands.

9 October 1997 - "Council of War" sits in Inverness to discuss tactics for preventing British Airways from carrying out it's policy of total Heathrow cancellation. Top politicians attend: Labour's David Stewart MP, LibDems' Charles Kennedy MP & Jim Wallace MP and the SNP's Margaret Ewing MP.
The Agreed Action Plan Includes:

Highland Council Convener Peter Peacock states that his meeting with The Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar MP, had brought his full support for the Council's actions.

HIE Chief Executive Iain Robertson states his wish to see "an independent accounting firm brought in to have a dispassionate look at the true economics." He stated that BA risked their credibility in the Highlands and Islands falling "faster than a stone".

Scottish Tourist Board Chief Executive Tom Buncle says tourism would be disadvantaged in the Highlands.

Pitlochry based McPherson's Atlantic Ltd. is reported in the Press & Journal as fearing the loss of up to 400,000 of its 1.5million annual turnover. It feared that Barcelona and Rome would be made inaccessible to its products as a flight down to Gatwick on one day would miss that day's flights out to Europe. The products could not survive the extra delay. The firm also cited the loss of the UK's main airport as a "credibility problem".

George Bathgate, director of production for United Distillers (the massive whisky making giants and a huge employer) said "this is going to cause us tremendous inconvenience".

Glen Elliot, an oil consultant based in Elgin states his "disgust" with BA's decision.

Chemical Engineer Bill Rankin of Rankin Associates, Elgin, says he wants to see "as big a protest as possible".

7 October 1997 - Highlands & Islands Airports Ltd. (HIAL) challenge British Airways to "open its books" to back up its claims that the Inverness - Heathrow route lost it 8million over 5 years. HIAL state that in their opinion BA should have been making a profit of 6000 a day.

6 October 1997 - Highland Council Convener, Peter Peacock, Highlands & Islands Enterprise Chief Executive Iain Robertson and a delegation of Councillors and Enterprise personnel head for Brussels to fight for the cancelled flights.

Convener Peacock announces intention to host a "Council of War", including MPs, Councillors, top businessmen and members of Highlands and Islands Enterprise to defend the vital air link. The Convener states "if [BA] does not use the Heathrow slots for the Inverness service they should free them for another airline better equipped to supply this service for the 200,000 passengers a year who use the route."

United Distillers announces full support for the Council campaign to save the Inverness-Heathrow route, saying "we are promoting our whisky in over 200 markets world-wide and anything that makes it awkward for our customers to visit us has got to be bad news".

Beginning of October 1997 - British Airways announce cancellation of all Inverness - Heathrow services.

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