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A quarter of Loganair’s 2015 flights delayed

Loganair's Saab 2000 aircraft.

ONE IN every four Loganair flights to and from Shetland has been delayed by 15 minutes or more this year – a performance the company itself described as “exceptionally poor”.

The airline’s director of revenue and scheduling Roy Bogle admitted the punctuality of its Sumburgh flights was not good enough – down from 84.1 per cent in 2014 to 75.7 per cent in 2015.

Bogle, speaking at a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum at the Islesburgh Community Centre on Wednesday afternoon, said the company had made two senior appointments in an effort to tackle the problem.

He said new director of operations Lorna Bruce was conducting a “root and branch review of our whole operation, making sure we are leaving no stone unturned”.

Members of the transport forum credited Loganair for introducing a compassionate fare for family members to travel in cases of medical emergencies and bereavements.

But several wanted to know why it had taken a Facebook campaign, with over 15,000 followers, to enact change when local politicians had been lobbying the company on several issues for many years.

This past weekend saw delays to eight flights in the space of three days, and Jimmy Smith of the Sumburgh Airport consultative committee had a clear message for Loganair executives: “Holding your hands up is not good enough.”

Islanders flying to and from Shetland have become wearily accustomed to announcements that Loganair’s Saab aircraft have “gone technical” in recent times.

Bogle said that a new director of engineering, Barry Stone, was introducing a warehouse in Glasgow storing £5 million-worth of stock, which will be in operation at the end of September.

NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh says the health board, which spent £2 million on Loganair flights last year, was grappling with a "significant overspend" on patient travel this year.

Delays have often been caused because Saab parts are held in Munich and have to be transported to Scotland for technicians to carry out maintenance.

He said the company’s executive board and senior management were committed to “get our punctuality back up to our targeted position” of 85 per cent.

Concern about the high cost of air fares remains, with NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh saying the health board – which last year spent £2 million on flights for patients – was “facing a significant overspend on patient travel that we’re going to have to manage through some means”.

He said it was frustrating that when patients booked flights as individuals, the 40 per cent Air Discount Scheme (ADS) applied, but not when the NHS booked on their behalf.

Bogle responded that Loganair’s dialogue was with the NHS at a national level, but Kinniburgh said it would be possible for health boards in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles to “withdraw from that” and try to address their “much more significant need for air travel”.

Kinniburgh also said it was annoying that, while it pays up front for flights, refunds due to cancellations can often take two or three months to be processed.

SIC councillor Theo Smith said airport staff were providing a “total lack of information” when there were delays to flights, and he said the company had offered “what I would consider waffle…over and over again”.

“When you’re sitting in a lounge for five or six hours and you have no idea what’s happening, when you’re going to go, where, it’s pretty hard – especially if you have children, and no information. You have to address this.”

Bogle said Loganair appointed ground handlers at mainland airports and, as part of her review, Lorna Bruce was serving “improvement notices” to ensure a “better all-round service to customers”.

“We know our performance has not been acceptable,” he repeated.

Councillor Jonathan Wills said some ground-handling staff “don’t treat the public with respect” and keep providing “meaningless phrases like ‘operational reasons’ – we want to know what is wrong”.

Councillor Theo Smith is fed up of hearing "waffle" and wants better information for passengers facing lengthy delays in airport lounges.

“Get them a cup of tea and give them regular updates in a friendly manner – it’s all they have to do,” he said. “It’s bog standard customer relations. Loganair can do it. If you book a flight over the phone, you’ll not find more efficient and charming people, but the problem is when you’re using someone else.”

Asked by Wills whether the Saab aircraft were “too old”, Bogle responded that they were deemed to be “half life”, on average between 18 and 21 years old, and that there was no suitable alternative to its turboprops for the conditions.

“They are well suited to this environment,” he explained. “The cross-wind performance is exceptional. You would see reliability be further reduced if there were alternative aircraft types trying to fly into Shetland both in the winter and the summer.

“The age of the aircraft, I don’t think is pertinent to the reliability issues we’re having.”

Forum chairman Michael Stout said he welcomed that the grassroots air fares campaign had dispelled some myths, such as that Loganair – which turned a £6 million profit last year – was excessively coining it in. 

But he was pleased that it had resulted in some action already, and more importantly “honest conversations” about lifeline transport services to Shetland.

When Stout invited questions from members of the press, Bogle responded by saying that he was “not authorised” to speak to the media and any queries would have to go via Loganair’s PR company The Big Partnership.

Stout said it was “a shame” there were such “strict limitations” on how Loganair dealt with the press.