By JOHN ROBERTSON
FLYBE is a front-runner to take over the contract to fly into Scatsta Airport with offshore oil workers and it could spell the end for Shetland’s short era of commercial jet travel.
The airline said earlier this week no deal had yet been sealed with the Integrated Aviation Consortium (IAC) which is made up of oil companies at Sullom Voe and helicopter operator Bristow. However, The Shetland Times understands the new operator of a shortened 18-month contract has now been selected and is due to be announced next week. Bristow head of commercial Alan Grant declined to comment ahead of the announcement.
Sources in the aviation industry claim Flybe would use cheaper propeller-driven planes if it takes over the contract from Flightline in February rather than the British Aerospace 146 jets currently used on the service. The rumours have been stoked by the presence of a Flybe Q400 plane (the modern version of the Dash 8) at Sumburgh and Scatsta last month on a familiarisation flight. Four days later Flybe removed the last of its 146 jets from its fleet for good with a last flight into Guernsey, which now no longer has any scheduled flights using jets. Flybe’s chief commercial officer Mike Rutter said recently there were concerns about the cost of continuing to use the jet as well as noise and environmental issues.
Flybe has a big fleet of Q400s, which has become the mainstay of its fleet, and it is rumoured to have bought up to four more recently from the Norwegian airline Wideroe, which used the aircraft on its Sumburgh-Bergen service in recent years. The twin turbo-prop planes can carry up to 80 people and are estimated to use about one-third less fuel than a jet like the 146.
There has been some chatter about the Scatsta contract on the popular pilot and aircrew’s website forum PPRuNe with one contributor claiming that Flybe and Eastern Airways were the two airlines selected for the shortlist with Eastern intending to use Saab 2000 planes shuttling back and forth to complete four round-trips a day each.
A spokesman for Eastern said yesterday due to commercial sensitivities it could not discuss individual contracts. However, in what appeared to be a hint, he said the airline had built its name around the North Sea oil and gas industry and showed an interest in flying operations in that sphere.
Other airlines in the frame, according to forum users, were the Faroese Atlantic Airways, the charter operator Titan and the Swedish outfit Skyways. Titan’s commercial director Alastair Kiernan confirmed yesterday it had looked into bidding but it was not considered viable to take on extra aircraft for just an 18-month contract. Titan uses 146 jets but might have acquired propeller-driven aircraft for the work.
Another story doing the rounds this week was that the three jets operated by Flightline between Scatsta and Aberdeen are eating up £1 million a month in running costs. Flightline was given six months’ notice in the summer. It took over the Scatsta service seven years ago after British World Airlines went bankrupt. The 90-seat BAE 146 jets do the trip to and from Aberdeen 10-15 minutes faster than prop-driven planes although the jets are restricted in their passenger capacity due to the short runway at Scatsta.
Meanwhile political pressure on Flybe is intensifying with complaints about hidden charges on its lifeline scheduled flights between Shetland and Scotland to be raised next week by the Shetland transport partnership ZetTrans.
The controversial fares system is to be taken up with top executives from Loganair who granted Flybe the franchise to operate the service from 26th October. Before then ZetTrans is appealing for people to get in touch with information about problems encountered with Flybe so they can be added to the ammunition for Wednesday’s meeting. Among the issues notified to the council already are:
- A strange case of a traveller being charged an extra £295 on top of the original fare of £171 to change the name of the person travelling;
- Up to £50 in credit charges for a family to book flights using credit or debit cards;
- Being charged for booking a seat, which adds greatly to the cost for a family wishing to sit together – something which used to be free.
Your Flybe experiences can be emailed to ZetTrans on firstname.lastname@example.org or phoned in on 01595 744868. Emma Perring of ZetTrans said yesterday there had been about 30 email responses since Monday which she is collating. “It’s been really quite useful,” she said. “ It is worth people contacting us.”
It looks likely there will be no let-up in the campaign against Flybe’s charges until it or Loganair acts. Another meeting with Loganair is planned for 3rd December involving Mr Wishart, MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur and Orkney councillor Jim Foubister.
The growing clamour for the removal of extra charges and fees follows the launch of a petition last month by The Shetland Times. The newspaper has taken issue with what it sees as Flybe exploiting its monopoly as the only commercial airline flying between Shetland and the Scottish mainland.