Islay Airport stands behind the broad beach of Laggan Bay on the west side of Islay, approximately mid way between the island's two main settlements, Bowmore and Port Ellen. It is accessed from the A846 "low road" which runs parallel with the coast in a dead straight line that is nearly seven miles long. You can tell you approaching the airport when the control tower comes into view.
Islay Airport serves as a gateway to the island via services operated by Flybe to and from Glasgow Airport. Meanwhile, Hebridean Airways also provides services to and from Oban and Colonsay. Details of services can be found on the Islay Airport page on HIAL's website: see the link on the right. The airport is also used by charter aircraft, private aircraft visiting from the UK and beyond, and by Air Ambulance helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
Islay Airport is operated by Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL), a public corporation wholly owned by the Scottish Ministers which in total operates 11 airports throughout the Scottish islands and on the mainland. These comprise Islay, Tiree, Barra, Benbecula and Stornoway in the Western Isles; Campbeltown, Dundee, Wick and Inverness on the mainland; Kirkwall in Orkney; and Sumburgh in Shetland.
There are a range of facilities for passengers at the airport. The passenger terminal, which opened in 2004, provides the services you would expect such as check in and car hire, plus waiting areas and The Drome Cafe. The airport is full accessible. What is nice is the way what could otherwise be a very generic airport terminal has been given a strong Islay feel, reflecting aspects of the heritage of the island as well as its distilling tradition.
Behind the scenes, Islay Airport comes with all the features that make modern flying such a safe way to travel. The runways were resurfaced at a cost of £2.1 million in 2002, and the airport's navigational aids were modernised and upgraded in 2003. And the daily test of the fire and rescue equipment (see footer image) shows just how seriously safety is taken.
Commercial aviation arrived in Islay in 1928 when a passenger aircraft from Renfrew (now Glasgow Airport) landed experimentally on the beach at the head of Loch Indaal. The island's first scheduled passenger flight took place on 16 May 1933, when Midland Scottish Air Ferries began a service using the same beach airstrip. Two days earlier this had also been used for the island's first air ambulance evacuation, of a local fisherman who had fallen seriously ill.
In 1935 a new airfield opened to serve Islay at Glenegedale, the site of today's airport, with flights operating from grass runways. During World War Two, Glenegedale Airfield was taken over by the Royal Air Force and became known as RAF Port Ellen. One of the RAF's first moves was to build concrete runways. In line with normal practice, three were built, aligned in different directions to ensure the best chance of one or other pointing into the wind at any given time.
RAF Port Ellen was used early in the war by Avro Anson aircraft of 48 Squadron, which at the time was responsible for patrolling the seas around the UK, mainly looking for U Boats. Later in the war the base was used by Beaufighter and Beaufort aircraft of 304 Ferry Training Unit, and some 1,400 RAF personnel were based here.
Over the year many different types of aircraft have called in at Islay Airport. Perhaps the most famous was the British Aerospace BAe146 of the RAF Queen's Flight which on 29 June 1994, with Prince Charles at the controls, ran off the end of the runway on landing and collapsed its nosewheel. No one was injured, and the Royal party were able to continue with their planned visit to Laphroaig Distillery.