Loganair chief Jonathan Hinkles has warned there could be longer term damage to services as the airline goes head to head with Flybe on flights to and from the isles.
As of September Loganair will be flying solo, though Mr Hinkles stressed today in an external transport forum it is up for the fight with Flybe, which has agreed a new deal with Eastern Airways.
Local politicians have welcomed the move in the belief that competition on the Shetland route will in turn bring down prices. Though Mr Hinkles said: “Flybe are frankly going to try and kill us”.
Mr Hinkles said while Loganair would increase the number of cheaper seats to Aberdeen and offer a “short-term bonanza” with eight flights Flybe had “walked into a room with a hand grenade” which was going to damage both airlines and ferry company NorthLink.
He argued Loganair would offer five flights a day to Aberdeen compared to three by its competitors, as well as a morning and evening service to Edinburgh and flights to Inverness and Kirkwall.
Flybe, he claimed had agreed to offer flights on the Shetland route for only a year. Their top fare was £20 higher than Loganair’s and his airline included a free 20kg baggage allowance and no credit charge for bookings.
He said Loganair was also “protecting connections” to Manchester and London and announced a new frequent flyers’ scheme available on all bookings from 1st September.
Unlike the current scheme, flyers could claim back a flight after 17 return flights rather than 28. Loganair will offer 24 flights a week to and from Shetland.
It will also be re-introducing a Saab 2000 aircraft to three out of five of its Aberdeen flights from September.
Last month, Mr Hinkles said, was the busiest June at Sumburgh in five years, with about 17,600 passengers, up 10 per cent on last year.
Asked after the meeting what the worst case scenario of the competition with Flybe might be, Mr Hinkles, said: “It could be committing all parties involved in this to losses of several millions.”
A greater number of cheaper seats to Aberdeen would affect NorthLink, he said, and if NorthLink’s revenue fell, then a question would need to be asked whether subsidy from the Scottish government would go up.
It also raised issues around a rise in the air discount bill, air services and replacement aircraft, he said.
He stressed in the last two years great deal of work had been done to tackle delays and cancellations and improve reliability.
“In the longer term we have to replace our fleet of aircraft, we know that, but this is not helpful… there are timescales that may go back as a result.”
He urged members of the committee to back the local airline and hoped customers in Shetland would do the same.
Last month Flybe said it was going up against its outgoing partner, after announcing an agreement with Eastern Airways. The partnership would mean flights being offered between Shetland, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
It came only six months after an announcement that Loganair and Flybe would end their long-standing franchise agreement.
Flybe later issued a statement expressing disappointment with Mr Hinkles’ approach and accused him of inaccuracies.
The statement from the airline’s press office read: “Flybe is extremely disappointed by the inaccuracies voiced by Mr Hinkles as reported. Flybe has been serving Scotland for over 20 years and remains fully committed to continuing to provide customers with the widest possible choice of affordable travel options in an environment of healthy competition.
“This includes those routes operating from 1st September to the Highlands and Islands from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.”