NHS Shetland - Survey - March 2021

Calls for CAA & Mackay to act on pilots’ worries

SNP transport and islands minister Derek Mackay is being urged to take an "in-depth" look at the issues raised by Loganair pilots.Derek Mackay pictured in Lerwick in 2015. Photo: Shetland News

A CALL has been made for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to conduct an immediate review of Loganair’s safety capabilities in the wake of a strongly-worded letter from the company’s pilots expressing serious concerns about the technical deficiencies of some of its aircraft.

On Tuesday Shetland News published the contents of the internal letter from the BALPA pilots union, sent to Loganair chief executive Stewart Adams last week, which complained that planes were “being returned to the line despite being unserviceable” and in some cases “aircraft retain defects that clearly affect flight safety”.

Both Loganair and BALPA responded by stressing that no pilot would fly a plane if they believed it was unsafe to do so.

The letter stated that crews “no longer have faith in management that they will be able to resolve this crisis” and “we do not see a future for Loganair if things continue as they are”.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has responded by writing to the CAA referring to regular complaints from islanders about Loganair’s services and frequent delays owing to technical faults. He also hopes to raise the issue in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Loganair chief executive Stewart Adams stressed that no pilot would ever fly a plane if he or she felt it was unsafe to do so.

Meanwhile campaigner Scott Preston is urging MSPs to come together and send a cross-party letter to transport and islands minister Derek Mackay to ensure the issues raised are examined in depth.

In September the troubled airline admitted one in four flights in 2015 had been delayed by 10 minutes or more. 

Carmichael stressed that passenger safety and confidence in Loganair was of “paramount importance”, and expressed concern at pilots’ dissatisfaction with engineering services.

“This is an extremely serious development,” he said. “Pilots publicly questioning the safety of their aircraft is unprecedented in my experience and needs to be taken seriously.

“The CAA is responsible for aviation safety in the UK and so they must implement an immediate review of Loganair’s aircraft and engineering services.

“Already this year we have seen two incidents requiring unscheduled landings mid-flight, including a diversion to Aberdeen on a flight from Sumburgh after the engine shut down. 

“Before a serious incident occurs again, we need a thorough safety review to renew passenger and community confidence in Loganair.”

Meanwhile ZetTrans chairman Michael Stout said the points made by BALPA in its letter “raise concerns for ZetTrans if there are unresolved risks to reliable air links to and from Shetland”.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has written to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) calling for an immediate review of Loganair's safety capabilities.

“ZetTrans does not have the technical or operational expertise to offer a view on individual issues raised and therefore we will not comment on those,” Stout said.

“However we have a legitimate interest in ensuring that air services to and from Shetland meet the needs of our community and businesses and that they are sustainable in the long term.”

He said ZetTrans would be inviting Loganair to meet as soon as possible to discuss how it is addressing the issues raised and “what is required to ensure long term sustainability of the services”.

Preston, the man behind the 15,000-strong Facebook campaign for reduced fares and an improved service, said it was “obviously worrying that pilots and crew are expressing concern over engineering or safety issues”.

He said the letter also highlighted staff morale problems and issues with engineering cover at Sumburgh, and “although the Loganair website shows they are recruiting for an engineer at Sumburgh, nevertheless all these issues are things people have been discussing for many months and in some cases years now.”

Preston called on all Highlands and Islands MSPs to “come together across party lines” and “as one voice present a case to the transport minister and the airline for these matters to be looked at in depth”.

Campaigner Scott Preston called on MSPs to work across party lines to ensure the issues raised are addressed properly.

He wants to see “proper reassurance, not just a throwaway comment to passengers that action is being taken and concerns about the condition of the aircraft is nothing to worry about”.

Preston added: “This isn’t a time for political football – it’s a big issue and must be addressed.”

Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman and Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart said he was particularly concerned about safety aspects raised by pilots.

“Almost daily, flights are being cancelled or delayed,” Stewart said. “Not only islanders, but those visiting on business and leisure, are being greatly inconvenienced.”

He is contacting fellow list MSPs asking them to join him in writing to Mackay seeking an urgent meeting “to discuss this latest issue to hit this lifeline service affecting flights to and from our islands”. 

“It is vitally important that we seek assurances from the carrier that they are addressing these issues urgently and as important we need the reassurance that no passengers are being put at risk.”

Shetland News has requested a response from the transport minister to Tuesday’s disclosure of pilots’ safety concerns.