Loganair would get back on track in 2016 after the airline’s poor showing last year, promised operations director Maurice Boyle on Monday.
Mr Boyle, making his first visit to Shetland since his appointment in the autumn, admitted to Shetland External Transport Forum that last year had been “challenging”.
He said aircraft punctuality had dropped, due mainly to technical issues but also to the weather, and “significant delays” had led to loss of customer confidence. Punctuality, he said, was the “number one driver of customer satisfaction”.
Reliability was also an issue, he acknowledged, and was the airline’s “top priority”. He said: “Nothing takes precedence over safety at Loganair.”
The technical issues plaguing the airline, leading to delays, have now been addressed through Project Optima, he said. Although some experienced engineering staff had left the company, a major recruitment plan, ending this month, had led to 146 staff in the engineering department, the highest number in the airline’s history, and 25 per cent of Loganair’s head count. Staff skills on the Saab 340 and the Saab 2000, the two types of plane operating in and out of Sumburgh, were now being upgraded.
Additionally, the fleet was being maintained through a spare parts hub closer to home in Glasgow – previously this was in Munich – and new software was being used to predict wear and tear. It was known that 50 per cent of defects were caused by anti-icing systems, and he pledged to make sure spares were readily available.
Mr Boyle said that although during last week it had been “difficult” to ensure punctuality – the aim is that 85 per cent of flights should fly within 15 minutes of scheduled time – it was an improving picture. In January punctuality was 74 per cent, in February 83 per cent and on Sunday it had been 95 per cent. A total of 68 flights had been delayed for three hours or more in 2015.
Mr Boyle said: “We’re committed to restoring performance to the 2014 level, we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas. Last week was difficult but we’re getting more good days.”
After punctuality, he admitted that communication was the second most common complaint.
Forum member Jim Nicolson asked why passengers could not be told if they did not need to check in so early, and Jonathan Wills said that staff should “go the [departure] gate and tell us the problems”. He said: “Don’t say operational difficulties, be specific, then you’ll win trust.”
Alastair Cooper said that a pilot going into the departure lounge and explaining the problem to the passengers was the “best example of communication”, which had left those waiting “as happy as could be”.
Forum chairman Michael Stout said: “People respect that.”
Mr Boyle said communication was being improved, and Dr Wills said he was pleased Loganair had listened to the public.
Meanwhile, the Saab planes are being refurbished. The fleet is getting new livery, new noise insulation, new LED lighting and slimline seats with extra legroom. Seven have been completed so far, and the whole fleet will be done by 2018. Mr Boyle said: “It will feel like a new plane.”
However, there are no plans to replace the Saabs. Mr Boyle said the 340, the “mainstay of the fleet” which “cross-wind capability” of up to 35 knots, is not being built any more. There was no global demand for planes with less than 50 seats, he said, and it was unclear whether a bigger plane could be filled.
When asked if fares would go down in the wake of the lower oil price, he said that fuel only accounted for 15 per cent of the cost.