LOGANAIR has announced a series of pledges for its services to and from Shetland in an effort to provide “strong reassurance” over fare prices and seat availability following Flybe’s withdrawal from the routes.
Among the pledges is as commitment to make at least 50 per cent of seats available on flights at its four lowest fares.
Two more steps will be added to Loganair’s fare ladder, while extra flights will be added at busy times – such as Up Helly Aa and the October holidays – to ensure more seats are available at affordable prices.
The ten-commitment pledge comes after rival Flybe flew its last flights connecting Sumburgh to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow on Sunday.
In addition, the Loganair has announced that it will run more flights this summer to and from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Loganair has consistently said that, due to Flybe’s challenge, fares had been available at unsustainably low levels through the autumn and would ultimately have to rise. That inevitably resulted in criticism of the airline from passengers once its competitor withdrew.
Managing director Jonathan Hinkles said Loganair - which earlier this month said it expects to post a loss in 2017/18 - has “listened and then worked hard to produce a meaningful response which we trust will provide strong reassurance to the Shetland community about future fares and seat availability”.
The company said the price of seats will depend on demand and the time from departure, and it stressed that because it does not receive any subsidy for its services, flights have to be “economically viable to be sustainable”.
Hinkles told Shetland News that the commitments should enable seats to be offered at the lowest fares for longer, compared to previous years. A flight to Aberdeen should have a base rate of £40.23 once the ADS discount has been applied.
Flybe flew into competition with Loganair on Shetland routes from September last year and it saw prices to Aberdeen, for example, drop to less than £40 one-way with the ADS discount.
But the increased number of flights meant that many were running with few passengers on board, leading to Flybe cutting its losses and pulling out.
Among Loganair’s pledges is a promise to keep “low fares” - less than £60 one-way including the ADS discount - on one flight every day to and from Aberdeen up to the day of departure, or until the flight is fully booked.
Hinkles said having two more steps on its fare ladder should ensure that as flights book up in advance, prices for remaining seats won’t increase as quickly as before.
“During the recent head-to-head, fares were at unsustainably low levels and for every seat occupied on flights from Sumburgh in November and December, two more seats flew empty,” he said.
“It meant that a huge number of seats remained on sale at the very lowest fares, often right up to the day of travel. Several independent commentators agreed with our view from the outset that this wasn’t going to be sustainable and so it’s proven to be.”
Hinkles added that the issue is “not necessarily around the headline price itself, it’s about the number of seats available at those cheaper fares”.
Loganair will also keep its £60 “rescue fare” which was introduced earlier this year for when Flybe cancelled flights and instead will use it for when NorthLink’s ferries are not running.
The airline also reiterated its commitment to helping customers in times of bad weather and said it will seek to fill any job vacancies at Sumburgh Airport through local recruitment.
Meanwhile, Loganair will increase its Sumburgh-Edinburgh flights from three to four per weekday from 26 March.
Passengers will now be able to fly from Shetland to Scotland’s capital at 7.40am and 9.25am each weekday, with new return flights leaving Edinburgh at 4.40pm and 6.10pm.
A larger, 50-seat Saab 2000 will be used on one of the Saturday Sumburgh-Edinburgh and Edinburgh-Sumburgh services during the summer.
There will also be a second Saturday flight to Glasgow using the Saab 2000, while the existing Sunday service will use the larger plane too.
Loganair has also announced that it will run ten additional flights to Edinburgh and Glasgow over the three weekends of the October school holidays.
“With more flights and more seats to Edinburgh and Glasgow announced today, our new flights to Manchester and Loganair’s services to Aberdeen, Orkney, Inverness and Bergen, Shetland will enjoy a wide range of air services with Scotland’s airline," Hinkles said.