The Scottish government’s transport minister has pledged to meet Loganair chiefs to find ways of driving down the high cost of air fares.
Derek Mackay’s call for talks with the operator follows an online campaign launched earlier this year, which gathered over 7,500 followers in less than 48 hours. Campaigner Scott Preston created the Islanders against Flybe & Loganair’s excessive prices Facebook page after becoming exasperated by the cost of air travel.
During a visit today the minister said he wanted to know what the operator could do to help cash-strapped passengers who have had to stump up cash for high air fares.
He also wants to know how reliability could be improved.
Mr Mackay’s flights both to and from the isles were delayed – at least one because of technical difficulties.
“I’ve met the campaigners and I’ve met elected members and next I’ll meet the operator to see what can be done to tackle air fares, and also reliability in the air service itself to make sure it’s more reliable.”
He said the Scottish government was committed to the current air discount scheme [ADS] of 40 per cent.
“I think it [ADS] is well received, the scheme for residents, but I’d want to know what the operator is willing to do in terms of reducing fares, or certainly freezing them, and that’s a conversation I’ll be having.”
Mr Mackay was speaking after the announcement of a comprehensive study of the ferry service to and from Orkney and Shetland, which will help inform the tender process for the next contract due to begin in April 2018.
His comments followed a meeting with councillors and officials on transport and a range of other issues, including housing, the economy, rural affairs and fishing.
He spoke about the prospect of a new Islands Bill, which he said would be “empowering” and reflect a move away from “one size fits all” legislation.
“I think all of that was well received, and follows on from the Empowering Our Island Communities Action Plan I’ve been working on ever since the formation of the Islands Area Ministerial Working Group.”
That development was welcomed by the council’s political leader, Gary Robinson.
“I’m particularly interested in taking forward our discussions on the forthcoming Islands Bill, ahead of the formal consultation period,” said Mr Robinson.
“The consultation will offer islanders a real opportunity to shape the legislation in order to secure the best social and economic benefits for Shetland.”
But it was the future of the ferry service, and the new study, which occupied much of the minister’s time.
The Scottish government says the study, in line with Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (Stag), will be overseen by a working group led by Transport Scotland and including representatives from the SIC and Orkney council as well as ZetTrans, HiTrans and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
The process will also involve detailed engagement with main stakeholders, such as the haulage industry and relevant harbour authorities.
The study is expected to get under way this summer and be completed in time to inform the early stages of the procurement for the next contract.
“It’s a comprehensive study … which essentially looks at the options, the routes, timetabling, demand for service and capacity,” said Mr Mackay.
“It engages widely with communities and passengers and then brings it all together.
“It’s the most comprehensive exercise there can be when it comes to a transport issue. It will be pulled together and will then inform ministers … local authorities, in terms of what should be procured. As we approach that procurement, we’ll have all that information.
“That’s more engagement, more consultation, than was the case before. That puts us in a good place to make sure we get the contract right, the specification right, for what, essentially, we buy for the next term.”
Full story in this week’s Shetland Times.