A flight from Inverness to Moscow, which should have been prohibited by sanctions on Russia, was given the go-ahead by the government, the Scottish National Party has claimed.
The Estonian-registered private jet, operated by Panaviatic, took off on 26 February, two days after President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A Notice to Air Missions (NOTAMs) regulation, banning flights between the UK and Russia, was issued the day before the flight, which carried three people and cargo.
Initially, the Department for Transport blamed Inverness airport for the breach of the regulation, accusing it of disobeying the rule banning flights between the UK and Russia.
However, a memo seen by the Press and Journal newspaper suggested that the UK government approved the flight, not the Highland aviation authorities. A transcript of national air traffic controls obtained by the paper suggested that Inverness airport crews were told there was “no reason to intervene” and block the flight.
But the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford and UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps clashed over the issue.
Blackford claimed Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) was informed of the regulations 24 hours after they came into effect, and after the flight had departed. He called on Shapps to “tighten the restrictions” so there are not “loopholes that allow flights with a final destination of Moscow”.
However, Shapps hit back on Twitter, disputing the claim that HIAL had not been informed of the sanctions. “It is always the responsibility of Aviation to check NOTAMs before flight,” he wrote.
The story gained wider attention this week when Richard Thomson of the SNP quizzed the prime minister about the flight at yesterday’s PMQs.
He asked Boris Johnson to “commit to informing the House at the earliest opportunity who was travelling on that flight” and to explain “why, despite being informed in advance of the flight, was no attempt made by the UK Government to keep the plane on the ground”.
Johnson replied that he did not know the answer but said “as soon as we can get some information about that, I will make sure that the House is properly informed”.
Previously, Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson confirmed an order had been issued but said there was a “delay” in information being provided by the Civil Aviation Authority to airport operators.
Therefore, he argued, the flight had been given clearance by air traffic control service as “complying with the sanctions regime in place at that particular point”.
He continued: “So the proper procedures were followed at that particular point but clearly there are some areas where there is a lack of clarity around some aspects of the sanctions regime.”
The Press and Journal noted that a spokesman for Inverness airport has made a similar claim, saying the private jet departed prior to a notification from the Civil Aviation Authority being received at 7.15pm that day.