Already long established as the Gateway to the Isles, Oban is proving to be an important link for air travellers too.
In 1938, as World War 2 loomed, the RAF dug up a number of potato fields at Connel, Argyll, creating a runway to act as a forward operating base supporting the Flying Boats arriving at nearby Oban.
The echoes of those long ago Hawker Henleys and Bristol Blenheims have faded, but during the intervening years the airfield has continued to be developed.
That airfield is now Oban Airport, and over 2,500 travellers passed through it during 2011 with figures increasing this year. The Argyll and the Isles Air Service is provided by Argyll and Bute Council.
The number of travellers in May this year – over 300 – was double the 2011 figure. As a result the schedule was re routed during the summer months for a trial period.
The 15 minute flight between Coll and Tiree is one of the world’s shortest flights, according to www.travelstart.com behind Westray – Papa Westray (2 minutes) and St Kitt’s – Nevis (5 minutes).
The airport, along with Coll and Colonsay airports, achieved CAA licensing in 2008 following upgrading works allowing scheduled passenger flights to interlink them with the isles of Tiree and Islay respectively. This networking is changing the lives of locals and islanders alike.
Travellers use the services operating out of Oban Airport to reach essential services which cannot be accessed on their islands – financial, commercial, educational, professional, advisory and health (for example, there is no resident Community Nurse on Colonsay).
A reminder of the airfield’s original role remains - fire training is done in a simulator positioned on a concrete area which was formerly a WW2 aircraft hangar.
The airport operates Cat 2 (Cat 3 on remission) seven days a week, under the guidance of Station Manager Tom Eddleston and with support from Administrator/Receptionist Dixie Porter.
Hebridean Air Services operate the council’s scheduled flights with a BN2 Islander aircraft – nine seater – out of their main base in Cumbernauld. Pilot Julie Angell and the airport team have many glowing testimonials from satisfied travellers on Hebridean Air Services website.
In October 2012, two surprise visitors popped in to Oban Airport - a stunning Lockheed PV-1 Howard Ventura aircraft, built in 1962, and Grammy-award winning singer Jay Kay, lead singer with the band Jamiroquai
Information about Oban Airport and Hebridean Air Services is available on the Oban Airport Website
Read about pilot Julie Angell at http://colinjcampbell.posterous.com/flying-with-julie-angell
The development of Argyll Air Services is the first step to encouraging further links with Oban with Glasgow, Skye and Inverness Airport in the future, allowing locals to access major airports.