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Watchdog flies north to back Loganair

CAA chief executive Andrew Haines
Loganair chairman David Harrison

THE UK’s London-based airline regulator has taken a major step to re-emphasise its message that lifeline operator Loganair is safe to fly with.

In an unprecedented move, Civil Aviation Authority chief executive Andrew Haines flew 600 miles to Shetland on Thursday to meet Loganair management and local politicians to discuss the current crisis of confidence facing the airline.

The meeting, chaired by northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael, was set up after a Loganair flight with 49 people on board triggered a full emergency when it landed on one engine at Sumburgh airport just before Christmas.

Public confidence with the airline is at an all time low following a string of technical faults resulting in frequent and lengthy delays.

Earlier this month, Loganair provoked a furious response from passengers when it announced a 1.3 per cent fare price hike only one week after it reported a 25 per cent increase in profits for last year.

Following Thursday’s 90 minute meeting in Lerwick, Haines said the CAA was acknowledging the level of concern in the islands by him coming to Shetland in person.

“The circumstances in Shetland are quite unique. There is this small community that is heavily dependent on the one provider, there is no competition,” he said.

“We want to reassure people that we believe Loganair is a safe airline. We would act very emphatically and stop them flying if we believed they were not.”

In his first media interview since Loganair hit the national headlines in spring last year, company chairman David Harrison said it was in the airline’s commercial interest to improve its service.

“We already have announced our plans to bring more trained engineers into the business, and increase our investments in spare parts,” he said.

“These are the things we are doing, but it will take a little bit of time to come into effect.

“But over the coming months, I believe, we will see the benefits in terms of improved reliability and the punctuality of the service.”

He added: “We have been working in the highlands and islands for many years and fully understand the vital importance of providing good air services.

“We are acutely aware of the inconvenience caused when things go wrong, and it is absolutely in our interest…that we get the service as good as it can be, and that is our top priority.”

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the meeting had been organised in response to the long series of Loganair safety incidents.

“The fact that they (the CAA) were prepared to come and were prepared to engage in a very open way I thought was significant, and it should be something that allows us all as a community to have more confidence in the service that is provided,” he said.

In a joint statement issued by Carmichael and Tavish Scott MSP, the northern isles politicians added the Loganair must do better.

“The CAA confirmed that Loganair operate a safe airline and they are helping with the reliability problems that all passengers have experienced.

“As part of making the service better, Loganair have to improve their communication to passengers especially when there are significant delays.
“If we are told what is going on and how problems are being fixed then delays are easier to live with.”

A spokesman for the Islanders for Fair Air Fares campaign welcomed Thursday’s meeting.

“The campaign are really pleased that these issues are being discussed at a high level and we look forward to seeing some improvements in the near future,” he said.