LOGANAIR has moved to reassure passengers that its aircraft are safe to fly in after a strongly-worded letter from pilots to company management raised a number of serious concerns about the “crisis” within its engineering department.
An internal letter from pilots’ union BALPA’s company council, sent to Loganair chief executive Stewart Adams on Thursday, complained that planes were “being returned to the line despite being unserviceable” and in some cases “aircraft retain defects that clearly affect flight safety”.
BALPA subsequently emphasised to Shetland News that its pilots would never fly an unsafe plane.
In a statement on Tuesday, Adams said Loganair wished to “make it absolutely clear that the safety of our crews and passengers is and always will be our number one priority”.
The two-page letter outlines major concerns pilots have about Loganair’s engineering department, which has contributed to the troubled airline delivering an “appalling” service to passengers. It describes morale as being “at the lowest ebb ever witnessed by many employees”.
BALPA questions the effectiveness of measures put in place since Loganair belatedly acknowledged its poor performance, which has seen one in four flights delayed by 15 minutes or more in 2015.
Islanders have grown wearily accustomed to flights being grounded for hours due to technical problems. Unless there are big changes, the pilots state, they “do not see a future” for Loganair.
Despite initiatives designed to improve things, “it appears that things are getting worse instead of better” – last week being “particularly poor with crews left wondering how much worse things can get”.
In September, Loganair insisted its Saab aircraft had plenty of shelf life remaining. But pilots say the aircraft are “going in and out of the hangar with recurring faults that cannot seem to be resolved”.
“There are also cases where aircraft are being returned to the line despite being unserviceable,” the letter states. “In some cases aircraft retain defects that clearly affect flight safety and in others have restrictions placed upon them which render the aircraft effectively unusable in our operating environment.”
In response, Adams 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”.
Loganair operates around 34,000 services a year and is subject to regular inspections by the CAA, which is “considered to be one of the most stringent” aviation authorities in the world”.
Adams continued that the airline holds a European Aviation Safety Agency air operator certificate and fully complied with all legislation and safety requirements.
“This demands that we must demonstrate we have a fully functional and effective safety management system which specifically manages all aspects of our operational safety,” he said.
“We are always open to discussing matters of concern with our flight crews, and have responded quickly to both BALPA and the pilot representatives with an offer to meet with them at the earliest opportunity to address their issues in detail.”
On Monday, BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan told Shetland News that the union was “encouraged by the speed of response” to its letter.
That response includes arranging a tour of Loganair bases to meet pilots and discuss the issues raised, and McAuslan said management were “clearly committed to resolving these issues and we will be happy to work with them on this”.
He added: “For the avoidance of doubt no pilot will fly an aircraft unless he or she believes it to be safe, and in this respect Loganair pilots are no different to those of any other airline.”
Thursday’s letter to management stated that engineers were “being worked very hard and the strain is showing”, while it is “clear that there is insufficient engineering cover around the network”.
In particular, there is no engineering cover at Sumburgh Airport until 11am each day – meaning “any faults found by crews in the morning cause lengthy delays to have these faults investigated”.
“Matters have now reached the stage where our cabin crew colleagues, worried by what they have experienced recently, frequently ask us whether we think that our aircraft are safe to fly,” the letter reads.
Pilots say the engineering crisis results in “us as a company offering an appalling service to our passengers: missed connections, delays getting to holidays, missed hospital appointments and more, are all the fault of Loganair”.
“The staff that feel the brunt of this are the check-in staff and the cabin crew as they have to face our understandably angry passengers who can at times be abusive from their frustrations.”
During the frequent delays staff “do not know what to tell passengers as operations are not able to give them a firm plan, as they simply do not have the resources they need to do their jobs”.
The disruption has also led to major upheaval to staff rosters, with “perpetual changes” affecting crew members’ lives. There is “increasing strain” on the relationship between crews and the operations team.
BALPA said Loganair was “deteriorating as a place to work” with morale “at the lowest ebb ever witnessed by many employees, including some of the longest serving”.
It raised fears that the problems of its engineering department (“specifically the apparent rapid loss of a significant group of highly experienced individuals”) were “in danger of being repeated in the flight operations department at a time when the company already appears short-staffed across many departments”.
The letter concluded: “Quite simply, crews no longer have faith in management that they will be able to resolve this crisis.
“We all want to see Loganair succeed and remain committed to working together to achieve this, but we feel compelled to raise our concerns as we do not see a future for Loganair if things continue as they are.”
Adams responded that engineering department issues had been caused by “a number of experienced employees leaving or retiring and having to be replaced”.
Training their replacements to work with the “very specialised aircraft” on Loganair routes “takes time, but we are now well into this process” with 10 engineers recently incorporated into its maintenance team after completing a Saab course.
An apprentice scheme is also to be initiated “aimed at future-proofing us against the worldwide shortage of aviation engineers”.
Adams repeated that Loganair was undertaking a review to improve “both punctuality and reliability” of its services, including opening a new spares hub at Glasgow Airport “to house more than double the stock to which we have access”. Previously parts had to be sourced from overseas, resulting in transportation delays.
Last month the company announced that experienced directors had been appointed to both engineering and operational divisions.
Adams continued: “In addition, back-up aircraft will be based at both Aberdeen and Glasgow to be used if and when there is a need for them to be deployed to support the daily flying programme.”
He said Loganair was making a “significant” investment and was “confident it will have a positive effect on services we have provided for our valued customers for more than half a century”.
Adams added: “These changes will not happen overnight, but I can assure everyone that Loganair is working hard to improve performance.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said: “We’ve been assured that huge efforts are being made on engineering, and pilots are obviously not seeing any benefits of that, and Loganair really need to resolve that to the travelling public’s satisfaction immediately."