By JIM TAIT
EASTERN Airways has begun transporting offshore oil workers between Aberdeen and Shetland two months ahead of schedule, after the previous operator Flightline went into administration this week.
Bristow Helicopters announced last month that Eastern Airways would run an interim contract from 7th February next year until June 2010, with the permanent contract on the verge of going out to tender.
The service is operated by the Integrated Aviation Consortium (IAC), which is made up of Bristow and oil companies at Sullom Voe Terminal.
On Wednesday Eastern Airways began using 50-seat turbo-prop Saab 2000 aircraft on the route with Sumburgh Airport as a temporary point of arrival and departure, as the company’s pilots are not yet familiar with Scatsta.
Bristow commercial manager Alan Grant was not available for comment, but PR company Weber Shandwick issued a statement on his behalf.
The statement read: “Bristow Helicopters can confirm that Eastern Airways has agreed to step in to provide a fixed wing service for the Integrated Aviation Consortium to Shetland.
“Eastern Airways was recently awarded an interim contract by Bristow to provide the service from 7th February next year. However, following confirmation today that the current provider, Flightline, has gone into administration, flights are to be operated today by Eastern Airways.
“Bristow is aiming to provide as near to a normal helicopter service as possible.”
This week’s development means the end of Shetland’s short era of commercial jet travel, as Flightline operated 90-seat British Aerospace 146 jets, albeit well short of full capacity due to runway length. There were on average about four round trips each day between Scatsta and Dyce.
Sumburgh Airport manager Nigel Flaws said things had been fairly hectic on Wednesday with six Eastern Airways flights, and they were expecting another 12 yesterday.
He said: “We were extremely busy, in terms of security in particular, and we had some assistance with staff coming down from Scatsta. We were delighted to be able to help out and we have the infrastructure to be able to absorb it fairly easily.”
Flightline had been given six months’ notice earlier this year after Bristow became concerned at its ability to deliver the service to the standards required – its contract had been due to expire in June next year. A spokeswoman for the consortium said then that Bristow had felt “the time was right” to explore other options.
Somewhat ironically, Flightline itself first took over the Scatsta-Dyce route in December 2001, after British World Airlines, which operated the service until then, went into receivership.