§ 10. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)
If he will make a statement on regional air links with Heathrow Airport. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin)
The Government acknowledge the social and economic benefits of air links between London and the regions of the United Kingdom. However, demand for take-off and landing slots at Heathrow greatly exceeds capacity. Slots are allocated by an independent co-ordinator. The Government have very limited powers of intervention; to date, they have concluded that no regional air services into Heathrow qualify for a public services obligation, which would enable slots to be protected.
§ Mr. Stewart
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that answer. Does he share my view that regional air links are crucial for business, for tourism and, indeed, for inward investment, but that there is a worrying trend for carriers to cut regional air services in favour of more lucrative international destinations? May I press my hon. Friend on public service obligations? Does he agree that they are the only real way to guarantee a future for rural, regional air services?
§ Mr. Mullin
We certainly accept that there is a case for good regional air services into London. What we do not accept—as my hon. Friend will recall from the discussions we held when he came to see me—is that all those services can go into Heathrow, which is heavily over-subscribed.
199 Regions must wean themselves off Heathrow and consider not only the other big London airports, but other solutions—such as developing international services out of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester or Newcastle. That is where the future lies, given the heavy congestion in our airspace. I understand that the 200 highlands and islands airports are exploring the potential for direct flights between Inverness and Amsterdam. That is a sensible solution to the difficulty outlined by my hon. Friend. However, as far as I am aware, there is no threat to the four flights a week from Inverness to Gatwick.