Aviation chiefs met politicians and Loganair bosses yesterday for crunch talks over the quality of air services to and from the isles.
The private meeting was attended by the chief executive of Civil Aviation Authority, Andrew Haines, as well as senior figures from Shetland Islands Council.
It came after widespread concerns surrounding the quality of service provided by Loganair in recent months, culminating in delayed flights and technical difficulties. Last month a full emergency was declared at Sumburgh Airport when a Loganair plane coming in from Aberdeen had to land on one engine.
Earlier this month Loganair announced a £15 million investment programme to improve and upgrade its fleet of planes, although it also courted controversy by simultaneously highlighting a boost in profits and passenger numbers.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Haines stressed the operation run by Loganair was safe.
“We were really grateful for the opportunity to come and hear more directly of some of the concerns of Shetlanders.
“We keep very close contact with Loganair. We are satisfied they run a safe operation – they have all the necessary approvals from us. We have regular oversight of them and if they weren’t we would be taking decisive action. We have a regular team of inspectors – people who have powers themselves, people who are engineers themselves, overseeing the activity.”
“We have regular oversight of them and if they weren’t we would be taking decisive action.” ANDREW HAINES
He said a lack of service quality could be taken as an indication that safety was uppermost in priorities.
“Service quality is obviously very distressing for customers, but there is no indication that is necessarily a safety issue. Very often it is a sign that people are taking safety seriously that they don’t allow the plane to operate with those defects.
“Equally, when you see people who have had very long delays – that’s obviously very unsatisfactory, the politicians made that point and Loganair acknowledged it. It is something they have to get better at.
“Loganair is a safe operation. They know they have to improve their service reliability and have taken serious steps to do that.”
Chairman of Loganair, David Harrison, said the meeting had given the organisation the chance to explain its position to the CAA and elected representatives.
“First and foremost, safety is paramount in everything we do. The main focus is how we want to make sure the Loganair service is always safe.” DAVID HARRISON
“First and foremost, safety is paramount in everything we do. The main focus is how we want to make sure the Loganair service is always safe.
“Over and above that we’re conscious that there have been elements of our service in terms of reliability and punctuality where there needs to be improvement. We talked a little bit about some
of the plans we’ve got in place to deal with that and we would expect to see improvements coming in place over the coming months.
“As ever, it takes time for operational improvement to come. But we are doing our best and over time we should see an improvement in the quality of service.”
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said paying passengers should be reassured, although rapid improvements were unlikely to happen overnight.
“Everybody knows the problems Loganair has faced. It has been about punctuality and reliability and now we have a series of concerns about a series of incidents that have involved emergency landings.
“I thought the obvious way to have a proper public addressing of these issues was to get the Civil Aviation Authority and Loganair in the same room together. And the fact that they were prepared to do that … here in Shetland was a good indication of the willingness on their part to engage and to explain a bit better.
“My experience of Shetland is that the public are not unreasonable, but they do need to be told that, when they see these incidents happening, there are robust systems in place to make sure the planes that we fly on are safe, even if they may on occasion be late.
“What we got today was a fairly detailed explanation and analysis of the Loganair systems, and also the way in which these systems are monitored and audited, and the degree of oversight and scrutiny that comes from the Civil Aviation Authority.”
Meanwhile, the campaign demanding fair air fares is seeking a new manager to help operate the drive for a better deal on flights.
Scott Preston, who now lives in Ayrshire after leaving the isles last year, has been running the campaign with isles man James Stewart, who now stays in Glasgow.
The two believe it would be more appropriate to have the campaign run by someone from within one of the island groups served by Loganair.
“Since June, James and I have been working quite hard to keep the campaign in the public eye.
“The news last week that the Loganair CEO [Stewart Adams] has stepped down has given us cause to step back and review where we are at.
“For any campaign to be successful it requires someone to understand the issues that campaign members want to see changed. The unique nature of the Scottish island transport network means that the campaign is best served by someone with a direct and regular experience of all the things that matter.
“As James and I are now based on the mainland we would like to hand the campaign on to someone who can take it forward and work closely with the airline, HIAL and the government to make changes for all the island communities whilst having that direct experience of island living.”