After weeks of build up, the battle of the airlines took to the skies today – as Flybe and Loganair go head-to-head for passengers from Shetland.
The rivals had worked in partnership for a decade, with Loganair providing the planes on most Flybe flights serving Sumburgh Airport.
Now that agreement has ended, the airlines’ PR campaigns have gone into overdrive in an attempt to beat each other to customers.
And the fight between the two airlines took off this morning as Flybe held an official launch at Sumburgh Hotel, while Loganair took the opportunity to send its representatives there to tell guests about its own services.
Loganair, which brands itself “Scotland’s Airline”, sent employees dressed in tartan to greet arrivals in the hotel lobby. They handed out letters from
Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles in which he tried to get one over his competitors.
A section of Mr Hinkles’ letter said: “Whilst today sees another airline launching its service amid a purple parade of prosecco, pastries and patter, the Loganair team of over 600 professionals living and working in Scotland is getting on with its ‘day job’ of maintaining Scotland’s – and Shetland’s – lifeline services.”
However, neither prosecco nor pastries were on offer at the Flybe reception.
Flybe chief executive Christine Ourmieres-Widener did say: “Competition is healthy – it’s a challenge to be a better service.”
Ms Ourmieres-Widener flew from Aberdeen to Sumburgh this morning to host an event at Sumburgh Hotel to celebrate the first day of her airline’s new partnership with Eastern Airways. A full franchise arrangement should be agreed between the two by October.
At the moment, Flybe and Eastern Airways are offering six new routes across Scotland, including Aberdeen to Sumburgh, Glasgow to Sumburgh, and Edinburgh to Sumburgh.
Ms Ourmieres-Widener: “Everything we are launching is to provide a bit of choice and affordable prices to all of our customers including our customers from Shetland.
“We are committed to reliability and Flybe has been awarded the most punctual airline so we know what it means for islanders to attend meetings, to go on holiday.”
Asked whether fare cuts are likely soon, she said: “The fares already came down if you compare the fares before 1st September and after 1st September. There are more affordable prices now so that’s good news for everybody in Shetland.”
Loganair director of operations Maurice Boyle was also present in Sumburgh Hotel as his airline begins to control flights for the first time.
Its new partnership with British Airways will allow passengers from Shetland to travel to over 200 countries.
“We are feeling fantastic,” said Mr Boyle. “Loganair is not afraid of competition. The question is ‘can the markets grow fast enough to sustain two carriers?’ and time will tell.
Chairman of the SIC environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson said: “It’s good that the day is finally here that Sumburgh has two operators out of the terminal.
“We will monitor the situation and we will keep in touch with both Flybe and Loganair and hopefully the competition aspect will reduce prices and increase traffic on routes.”
• Meanwhile, Flybe used the opportunity to announce a new Community Heroes initiative. It will see one resident win a VIP-treatment package and have a plane named after them.
Ms Ourmieres-Widener said: “We all know at least one person who goes that extra mile or gives their precious time to help their community or each other – it could be a neighbour, a charity hero, an outstanding volunteer – the list is endless. Their selfless energy and commitment often goes unsung so Flybe is pleased to contribute something towards helping recognise such wonderfully inspiring people.”