By RYAN TAYLOR
Isles MSP Tavish Scott has come under heavy criticism from Loganair’s chairman Scott Grier after he publicly criticised the company over its handling of its new partner Flybe.
In a statement earlier this week, Mr Scott said he had received “numerous complaints about fares, extra charges and cuts in flights” since Flybe took over the Shetland service from British Airways last October.
At the time major concerns were raised over the cost and quality of service on offer, however since then Flybe representatives have been active at a number of public meetings in an earnest bid to improve the service for passengers.
Despite cutting services to Aberdeen and Inverness, the number of flights Loganair now provides to and from Shetland has increased compared with recent years.
Claiming Flybe would be better known as “Fleece Me”, Mr Scott said it was time to offer other airlines the chance to compete for business to and from the isles.
“I struggle to see any benefits that Flybe has brought to Shetland,” he said. “They claim to be a low cost carrier, but Shetlanders who have contacted me in large numbers over the past six months say finding a low fare is rare.
“Flybe’s website is poor – some constituents think it is deliberately misleading. Flybe’s business approach is to charge for any additional ‘service’ they can on top of high fares.”
He said the benefits of the successful air discount scheme, introduced when Mr Scott was transport minister of the previous Scottish authority, were being cancelled out by high fares and hidden charges.
“Now we see service cuts, with less and less notice. Flybe, for too many Shetlanders, has become a high-fare, low service airline.
“Tourism, business and personal travel for Shetlanders and visitors is affected by the cost of flying. I am concerned that we are going backwards and not forwards. It’s time to look again at how we can improve the service.”
In a letter to The Shetland Times Mr Grier said: “Mr Scott’s comments about service cuts are frankly unworthy of him. The cuts in question amount to two weekly flights on the Aberdeen route and one on Inverness – services which were being little used.
“He omits to mention the three additional services each week on the Edinburgh route, or the additional flights to Bergen.
“Despite the current economic recession which is having serious effects on all airlines, Loganair is now providing 67 external Shetland air services each week compared with a modest 36 services only a few years ago.”
He said Loganair would collaborate with ZetTrans, as well as its Highlands counterpart Hitrans, in their “in depth look” at external air services.
Meanwhile, he maintained, passengers were still benefiting greatly from the air discount scheme.
He added rules governing European aviation meant any airline would be free to operate on Scottish Highlands and Islands air routes, and that comments like those made by Mr Scott had a detrimental impact on staff morale.
“Loganair understands the real concerns and sensitivity about fare levels and is always mindful that another airline could start competitive services at any time. Even now we are in serious competition with increasingly subsidised ferry services.
“Mr Scott’s extremely negative comments are a great disappointment to Loganair and our many staff who work extremely hard to provide safe and reliable air services to Shetland, often in most difficult circumstances.”
Mr Grier said it would be “more rewarding” if the LibDem leader would “use his good offices to work in a positive way alongside Loganair” to find a way of reducing airline costs, such as high fuel prices at Sumburgh Airport, which he said were more than double those charged at central belt airports.