One in four flights to or from Shetland was delayed by more than 15 minutes this year, airline operators Loganair have admitted.
The chairman of the External Transport Forum Michael Stout also called on Loganair to improve passenger communications and “cut the waffle” when keeping passengers abreast of flight delays.
Speaking at the forum on Wednesday, Loganair’s revenue and scheduling director Roy Bogle said that flight punctuality had declined from 84 per cent last year to 75 per cent in the year to date.
He said that Loganair had to “hold its hands up” that “reliability has not been good”, but, “where we are exceptionally poor is punctuality….one in four flights are carrying a bit of delay”.
Mr Bogle added: “As a management team we are not pleased with these results.”
Because of that, Loganair, which operates the Flybe franchise in Shetland, had instituted Operation Ultima – a “root and branch review of the whole operation” – and taken on two new senior managers – the new head of operations Lorna Bruce and a new director of engineering Barry Stone.
He said that Loganair’s reliability – i.e. scheduled flights that were not cancelled – was down, at 99.1 per cent compared with 99.8 per cent in 2014. But this only included “controllable” cancellations and not cancellations caused by the weather, crew sickness or industrial action.
Mr Bogle said: “We will be leaving no stone unturned and will fully review our whole operational performance and our drive is to get punctuality back to 85 per cent.”
As part of the process, Loganair has opened a depot with £5 million of spares near Glasgow and that should speed up the wait for parts.
But chairman of Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee Jimmy Smith was less than impressed by Loganair’s assurances and cited multiple cancellations that had thrown last weekend’s timetable into chaos. Nor was he pleased that Loganair’s partnership with BMI in a new holding company, AIL, had come as a bolt from the blue.
Mr Smith said: “Holding your hands up is not good enough.”
He also criticised the Avios loyalty scheme which uses Tesco points to count towards free flights as not offering customers enough choice.
But Mr Bogle pointed out that Loganair had dropped the number of points required for a free “point to point” return flight from 9,000 to 6,000, and that it used a “revenue management technique” that was “common across all airlines” to determine which seats could be offered as part of the loyalty scheme.
He also outlined a 13 per cent decline in Loganair’s occupied seats from Shetland to Aberdeen, which had kicked in December with the loss of oil business, and which contributed to an overall two per cent decline in Loganair seats in the year to date.
That slight fall had been in spite of a 28 per cent growth in Glasgow bookings. Passenger numbers to Norway and Edinburgh had also declined slightly.
Mr Bogle said that Loganair was introducing its “compassionate discount” which will offer 50 per cent off its most flexible fares, which can be booked at short notice, aimed at friends and families of the seriously ill, or those travelling to attend a funeral.
But Mr Stout and West Mainland councillor Theo Smith both questioned why it had taken a “well-organised” Facebook campaign to get movement on these fares when they had been among the many issues tackled by the transport forum and had been discussed for “years and years”.
Mr Bogle said that it was “coincidence” that the bereavement fares were being introduced after the Facebook campaign. “My nose would grow if I were lying,” he said.
“It’s not breaking new ground because it existed in the past, but we are the only UK airline to offer these,” he added.
Mr Smith added that the most vexing problem with delays to scheduled flights was the “total lack of information”.
He said that you could sit in the lounge at Sumburgh “for five or six hours and have no idea what’s happening, when you are going to go and where you are going to go. It is pretty poor.”
But Mr Stout went further and suggested that Loganair sometimes tried to pull the wool over passengers’ eyes by making misleading announcements about flights and should “take the honest route” and “cut to the chase”.
Lerwick North councillor Jonathan Wills said that Loganair should take the public into its confidence, give people a cup of tea and give them accurate information.
After Mr Bogle had finished his presentation and fielded questions from the committee members, Mr Stout offered him the opportunity to answer press questions. But Mr Bogle declined and referred journalists to Loganair’s PR company, The Big Partnership, instead.