Loganair and campaigners aiming for lower prices and improved reliability from the airline are to discuss details of a “compassionate discount” scheme for islanders needing urgent flights for family emergencies and bereavements.
The commitment from the islands’ airline, which has been the target of heavy criticism and an internet campaign, came after an “extremely positive” meeting between Loganair bosses, campaign leader Scott Preston and Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael in Sumburgh last night.
Although the details are to be finalised, Loganair is seeking input directly from the campaign members and it is hoped the scheme can be implemented very soon.
Mr Preston said after the five-hour meeting that the was was “delighted that not only were Loganair willing to provide answers to many of the group’s questions but were also able to provide us with a much fuller understanding of the economics of running an airline.”
He added: “A large number of group members had expressed concerns about the cost of travelling for unexpected family emergencies. Senior management at Loganair showed their willingness to expand their current range of discounts in order to meet this need”
A statement quoting Loganair chief executive Stewart Adams said: “We’ve given a commitment that we want to extend the current concessionary fare scheme for hospital visitors to include visits for family funerals and have asked the group for its input in helping to design how this would work in practice. This should make a real difference to our passengers at times when they need our help and understanding.”
He added: “Last night’s meeting was very valuable and I’m confident we can make further progress in the weeks and months ahead. We’ve given a commitment to maintain the momentum and look forward to working together with the group on an ongoing basis.
“We were determined to be completely open about those issues, including pricing, punctuality and also compassionate fares, and after five hours of very detailed discussion – until midnight last night – we’re confident that was achieved.”
Mr Adams admitted that reliability had “simply not been good enough in recent months”, even allowing for operating in an island environment with bad weather.
As a result, Loganair started investing heavily in its engineering division several months ago, has appointed a director of engineering and is expanding its 130-strong team of technicians and engineers.
It has also invested in a new spares depot in Glasgow, as many delays have been caused by having to wait for parts to be shipped from elsewhere in the UK or the continent. “This should make a real difference to our reliability,” said Mr Adams.
The company had spent several million pounds expanding its fleet, adding four larger aircraft with another one on the way next year, to “increase capacity and flexibility on our network.”
Mr Adams said it would take time for the initiatives to have their full impact, but he had made “every single one of the 570 people in Loganair fully aware of the critical importance of making reliability our top priority”.
He said that Loganair’s financial model was “completely different” to the massive, low-cost international carriers and, “at seven per cent, our profit margin is far lower than easyJet (13 per cent) and Ryanair (12 per cent).”
Mr Adams added: “Operating any airline is highly complex, with a myriad of costs making up the fare paid by our passengers, and it’s
enormously frustrating to hear some people refer to ‘massive price hikes’ so we wanted to be completely open. Our fares, net of taxes, have increased by an average of two per cent over the past eight years, compared to an average increase in RPI of three per cent.
“In fact, people may be surprised to learn that the average profit we make on our scheduled routes is just £8 per passenger.”
Mr Preston said it was clearly a matter of professional pride to Mr Adams that the reliability issue be resolved.
Mr Carmichael said that the meeting had been “one of the most productive and constructive that I have known” and described it as a “useful and productive first step”.
He added: “Loganair were candid in their comments about the reliability of their services in recent months and shared the detail of what they are doing to address this. Some of the problems that they face are complex and time will tell whether they are successful in dealing with them. I was, however, impressed with the determination that they faced in this regard.”
Vice-chairman of ZetTrans Steven Coutts, Mr Preston’s wife Phoebe, Loganair engineering director Barry Stone and director of revenue and scheduling Roy Bogle were also at the meeting.
● Although Loganair bosses made it to the meeting in the Sumburgh Hotel on time at 7.30pm a majority of flights from Sumburgh yesterday was apparently delayed for “technical reasons” or pilot hours. Three of 11 flights were on time.
That had a knock-on effect this morning, when some competitors were travelling to the island games in Jersey were delayed, missing their scheduled connection from Aberdeen to Jersey. Loganair laid on an extra flight which was itself delayed when an incoming Eastern Airways flight developed an engine fault before landing. It is hoped the flights will be running to schedule this afternoon.