Politicians have called for urgent action over the lifeline air services run by Loganair to and from Shetland and other parts of the Highlands and Islands after two more worrying incidents this month.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott questioned Scottish Transport Minister Derek MacKay in Holyrood today asking that he speak immediately with Loganair and the Civil Aviation Authority to press the need for an immediate improvement.
Mr Scott said that daily disruptions are affecting local air travellers and planes are regularly delayed on technical grounds. Orkney MSP Liam McArthur missed an Education Committee session this morning (Tuesday) as the Kirkwall flight “went technical”.
Mr Scott said: “It gives me no pleasure to say that the service suffers more disruption now than in any time I can remember since 1999. I am grateful to the transport minister for his agreement to meet Loganair and the CAA, who are the independent air regulator responsible for safety standards. Everyone who flies and all those in Loganair desperately need to see some improvement because the service is creaking.”
Labour transport spokesman and Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart highlighted the latest incidents – one at the start of the month when a crack was discovered on a propeller of an aircraft due to fly out of Stornoway as passengers boarded – and another when passengers on a Loganair flight from Manchester Airport to Inverness were ordered to “brace” during an emergency on board. They were also allegedly advised to “check for flames” as they got off the flight.
At Topical Questions this afternoon he asked what recent discussions the Scottish government had with Loganair regarding safety, reliability and maintenance.
He also asked the transport minister “if he would share cross-party concerns about the robustness of the Loganair services”.
The minister replied that he too was concerned about reliability and he was happy to meet with Loganair officials again to ask for updates and progress reports.
When asked by Mr Stewart about the contents of a letter sent by Balpa to Loganair about aircraft safety, the transport minister repeated his concerns in relation to reliability but stated we cannot question safety. “Safety must not be compromised”, he said.
Mr Stewart said that Mr Mackay had advised him that he had met with Loganair officials on 15th September and they accepted that reliability was not good enough, assurances were given that they would be progressing with a plan of improvements.
Mr Stewart has been involved for some months with various issues affecting Flybe and its sub-contractor Loganair, including the high cost of fares and the unreliable service.
Working with cross-party MSPs and with the Shetland-based campaign group set up by Scott Preston, progress was achieved and talks were planned to address other issues.
At the end of last month, it emerged that the pilot’s union, Balpa, claimed that Flybe/Loganair aircraft are being returned to the line unserviceable.
As a result of the latest incidents, Mr Stewart wrote to all Highlands and Islands MSPs asking for cross-party support in his calls for an urgent meeting with Mr Mackay to discuss the operator and the service provided.
Speaking this afternoon, Mr Stewart said: “All these incidents are a very real concern for everyone involved, not least my constituents, who have to use these flights to fly to and from the islands on business or for other person family reasons.
“I do note that Loganair chief executive Stewart Adams has previously emphasised that no pilot would leave the ground if they had safety concerns. He apparently said the final decision on whether a flight departs is ‘always in the hands of the pilot, and we know that none of our pilots would ever leave the ground if he or she had any safety concerns’. This at least is reassuring.
“However, almost daily now we learn of some new drama in relation to these island lifeline flights and the time has come for urgent action.
“I have written to the transport minister on behalf of some of my colleagues, asking for an urgent meeting with him to discuss this issue and I am awaiting a response.
“Clearly we are all aware of some very serious incidents involving Loganair. Even the transport minister has stated that he is concerned about reliability. I am content that the transport minister is going to speak again with officials from Loganair to seek updates on their engineering improvement programme, but my constituents and the passengers that are using these aircraft want real reassurance that safety will not be and has not been compromised and the chief executive of Loganair should come out again and give all users of this service his 100 per cent guarantee that safety will never be compromised and they will take ;positive action to improve the services provided”.
Mr Scott later added: “I agree with Derek MacKay that the pilots who fly the aircraft in and out of Sumburgh will not take off unless they are completely sure about safety. After Sunday’s very bumpy flight to Edinburgh I have nothing but praise for the Loganair aircrews. But as I waited for that plane the incoming Glasgow flight was delayed and the Aberdeen southbound flight was also delayed as the plane went technical.
“Sumburgh needs more engineering support. Loganair have to put aircraft into a hanger so that repairs can be achieved more efficiently and in better working conditions for the hard pressed engineers.”