FLYBE is set to go into competition with soon to be former partner Loganair in Shetland after the airline announced that it has signed a franchise agreement with Eastern Airways to fly in the north of Scotland.
The five-year partnership is set to take effect from 1 September and it will offer flights between Shetland and Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
But Flybe has now confirmed that it has signed a ‘head of terms’ agreement with Eastern Airways to cover six routes in Scotland as it goes into direct competition with its former partner.
Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles said the airline was “extremely disappointed and surprised” as it had been negotiating in “good faith” with Flybe about future codeshare deals, which may now be lost.
Flybe CEO Christine Ourmieres-Widener told Shetland News that the agreement was a good opportunity to “reinforce” the airline’s position in the north of Scotland.
She added it was a chance to offer “more choices and competitive pricing” in the region.
“We have always had a very good presence and our brand is very well known,” Ourmieres-Widener said.
“We think connecting this region to the rest of the world is quite important and has a big potential.”
There will be up to three flights from Aberdeen to Sumburgh/Kirkwall a day, as well as daily trips from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Shetland.
It is thought that the flights to the isles will use Eastern Airways’ Embraer 170 aircraft, which holds up to 76 passengers.
The airline’s agreement with Eastern is “non-binding” at this stage, but it is confident it will be formally signed off in the coming weeks and tickets are already on sale via the Flybe website from £49.46, including taxes and charges.
The Scottish Government’s Air Discount Scheme, which applies a 50 per cent discount for island residents, will be applicable.
The agreement will use four Eastern Airways operated aircraft, which will be Flybe branded, and there will also be flights from Glasgow to Stornoway and Glasgow to Manchester.
A combative Hinkles said Loganair will be “up for the fight”, with the airline boss adding that Flybe will charge more in areas like baggage and credit card surcharges.
“Flybe is intent on challenging us head-to-head on a few of our traditional and established routes that make up our extensive network in Scotland, but we are Scotland’s airline, and I can promise them that we are up for the fight,” he said.
“We’ve invested a huge amount in the infrastructure – engineers, ground handling, support staff – to provide our Highlands and Islands services and we’re here to stay.
“Although we’ve been flying as a Flybe franchisee on these routes for the last eight years, we have been serving these communities for over 50 years. In our various stations from the Western Isles to Orkney and Shetland and in our city bases like Aberdeen and Inverness, we have staff who know the importance of our services to local people.”
Chair of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson welcomed the development and said he hopes it will lead to more competitive prices.
“I think this is fantastic news for Shetland and those looking to travel here by air. Competition between Flybe and Loganair on the Shetland route can only be a good thing and I hope it leads to cheaper fares for those travelling to and from our isles,” he said.
“I look forward to working closely with both airlines for the benefit of Shetland and Shetlanders over the next five years.”
Eastern has already been providing flights for the oil industry to and from Scatsta and Sumburgh for a number of years.
Chief executive Richard Lake added: “This alliance will benefit both airlines as not only does it strengthen Flybe’s network, but broadens our distribution and enhances connection opportunities for our customers through its global airline association.
“We have specialised in fixed-wing flying in the oil and gas market for many years and our expertise will provide a greater opportunity to further develop offshore connectivity to Flybe’s network.”