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Scotland's travellers will be hard hit if the BA strike goes ahead, says Brian Potter, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents' Association.
As I write this column, the British Airways strike looms large. Even if it is called off at this late stage, the damage has already been done to the BA brand. If Air France or any others join the bandwagon we will have a sorry state of affairs not seen since the 70's.
All of us in these very tough and challenging times have had to make huge sacrifices to keep our jobs and businesses going and there have been many casualties along the way, including some well established SPAA members. British Airways is no different, but somehow a majority of its cabin crew thinks it is immune from the realities of the world as it is today. There can be no justification to jeopardise the future of the airline, colleagues' jobs and most importantly customers loyalty, which has been sorely tested in recent months. Here in Scotland we do not have the luxury of non-stop and direct flights in the same way as there are from London and we have to rely hugely on the Heathrow hub for connectivity. Business and commerce demands that. Our two major carriers BA and bmi are necessary for not only point-to-point but through connections to the wider world. Bmi is extremely efficient at providing that connectivity. But when BA suffers the slightest hiccup at Heathrow, Edinburgh and Glasgow services are inevitably the first to be cut. Whether it be fog, wind, rain or snow; when Air Traffic Control reduces the flow at Heathrow, Scotland loses out. So once again, with the impending strike, we initially lost all connections available to us with BA, and our long suffering customers must wonder just what the BA commitment is to Scotland. If it really does not value the routes, then why not hand them over - with the slots - to an airline that does? That's probably not going to happen, but perhaps our politicians at Holyrood and Westminster should start asking the question. The planned High Speed Rail route recently announced will go only as far as Birmingham, and will only start to be built from 2017, so we're going to need reliable and efficient air links to London Heathrow for many years to come. I believe both Scotland and the UK needs the third runway, though I am very mindful of the environmental issues. But rail is never going to be an alternative for Aberdeen, the Western Isles, Orkney or Shetland. In order to progress the UK's standing in Europe we cannot allow ourselves to fall further behind in connectivity terms compared to Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. I believe we all want high-speed rail links to include Heathrow, but an interesting thought there is that the air traffic requirement at Heathrow will actually increase substantially as travel from towns such as Birmingham and Leeds route via rail to Heathrow for a direct flight, rather than fly via Amsterdam or Paris. So the argument against a third runway maybe doesn't stack up. Scotland, with a great history of travellers, will need to use whatever alternatives we have to travel around the world with or without BA, but we should expect to support UK companies where we can, and to do that companies like BA need to remain competitive, and actually flying.