“ Address: Benbecula Airport / Balivanich / Benbecula / Western Isles / HS7 5LW / Tel: 01870 602051 „
When I asked Dooyoo to put Benbecula airport onto their catalogue I thought it would be some time before I heard back as it is remote, and certainly a poll of people taken at random on the streets would, I am sure, see the majority not being able to pinpoint its position on a map.
The Island Of Benbecula
Benbecula is one of the islands that make up the Western Isles more commonly known as the Outer Hebrides. Until recent history saw the building of causeways between these outer islands it was remote indeed, but now the airport still remains a life line for islanders bringing in tourism, facilitating health service provision, and encouraging islanders to be able to stay in contact with friends and family, without facing a long car journey or a ferry crossing.
To the north lie the Islands of North Uist and Berneray, to the south is South Uist and its companion island Eriskay. Benbecula has a main settlement where the airport is situated known as Balivanich. This Gaelic name actually means "town of the monks" which refers to a time in the 6th century when a monastery was established there.
Benbecula itself has a long military history and the airfield was built during the Second World War. In 1958 an army base was established there, and the army buildings are still very much in evidence on the landscape which surrounds the airport. Now though any defence work is undertaken by a firm called QinetiQ, who are an international defence company, and they provide many jobs in this economically challenged area.
The Airport And My Experience.
So how is it that I know a lot about this airport? Well for the last 15 years I have flown in and out of it many times every year, usually every couple of months, and landing here is for me the gateway to paradise. I will never forget the first time I flew in from Glasgow. The twin engine propeller plane flew low over the island as we prepared to land, and the views were absolutely breathtaking. A myriad of sparkling blue lochs and isolated thatch roof cottages -one perched precariously in the lee of Eaval, North Uist's highest mountain. The waves crashing onto the beach hugged the runway as we touched down, and as the plane thundered along the runway I knew that I had found home.
In those early days things were very different at the airport. It was a hut more than a terminal, and when we used to arrive for a plane it was almost like going for a bus. Now the airport has been redesigned to increase passenger comfort, and to enhance security measures, but one thing that hasn't been removed is the dual thrill - the view and the excellent café, which has hot and cold food in plentiful supplies!
When we first used the airport I was always intrigued by the vast number of islanders who enjoyed an egg roll whilst waiting for their plane! They would all order and wait until, eventually, a flat sunny side up would be delivered to them, sitting like the jewel in a cracker between two floury halves of a white balm cake. I have never tried this myself, but just before my son emigrated to America I took him to the island, and he, to my amazement, joined the islanders and enjoyed his first egg roll! In those days the service to Glasgow was operated using ATP aircraft, which were very bumpy, and a generous whisky was enjoyed in flight by many who knew that their approach to Glasgow would be turbulent! I have been on this aircraft when it suddenly dived in an air pocket, and this sent the tea pot flying onto the stewardess, heralding a rather abrupt end to hot drinks!
So what is the terminal like now? Light and airy with plenty of seating this new build is a joy to be in especially if, like me, you enjoy plane spotting. However it isn't Heathrow and you may have to be patient. Air Traffic Control is based in a Stingray Marineville type tower, and a single controller is seconded there for stints. Picture windows afford stunning island views, and each day you can expect to see two flights from Glasgow, one to Stornoway on The island of Lewis to the north. There is also the welcome dinky twin otter which comes in from Barra, where its beach landing is something to treasure. You may also see private planes and the helicopter for St Kilda. Fly Be is the main carrier now which operates for Loganair, and the airport is owned and operated by Highlands and Islands Airports Limited.
There is no shop at the airport but a supermarket lies a few minutes away. There is a bus stop at the airport but no cash machine. Long and short term parking at the airport is free and you can also collect a hire car from the airport.
Facilities are excellent for disabled passengers, there are lifts and ramps at the terminal entrance, and an ambulift is also available for boarding the aircraft. They are well used to dealing with passengers who have special needs, as many of their travellers are flying to Glasgow to attend hospital visits. The staff are just so friendly and are a joy when circumstances cause planes to be cancelled. The airport has no ground radar so low mist will cancel flights if the incoming pilot cannot visualise the runway. This has happened to me many times, you can hear the plane circling and after two attempts it must return to Glasgow. I always have mixed feelings about this as it means another day in paradise to treasure! Though many flights have been cancelled from here over recent weeks due to the Icelandic Volcano, the lessening of the restrictions on propeller aircraft will help the airport, as Fly Be operate a Saab twin prop plane for these services.
Another important point is that the airport only opens a short while before flights, and is not open 24hours, though it remains open for the working day during the week.
The position of the airport means that it is situated on an outcrop of machair, or grassy meadowland, so when you take off especially in summer you will be able to see many carpets of flowers especially in late July when the flowers are at their best.You will also see many observation trips made by airport staff in cars up and down the runway. These inspections are to check for birds and other wildlife. as the runway really is right next to the beach.
Check in for flights will close 30-40 minutes before take off, so it is as well if you are travelling in from the islands to arrive well in advance. The roads in the outer isles do have single track in places, and this can be a long journey often with sheep on the road to slow you down.
The airport is a gateway to these stunning and remote islands and certainly puts a smile on my face every time I pass through it.
Benbecula Airport, Tel: 01870 602051
Hebridean Coaches Tel: 01870 62035
Benbecula Taxi Service Tel: 07899003777 and 07769637755
Buchanans Tel: 01870 602277
Buster Tel: 01870 610374
Donald John Tel: 01870 603007
Maclennan's Self-Drive Tel: 01870 602191
Ask Car Hire Tel: 01870 602818
This review is also published on Ciao by myself under my user name Violet1278.