LOGANAIR has accused Flybe – which is set to compete with the Scottish airline on Shetland routes to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow from September – of making factually inaccurate claims about its offering to passengers.
The airline’s managing director Jonathan Hinkles addressed a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum on Wednesday, and he pulled no punches in rubbishing statements from Flybe’s chief executive Christine Ourmieres about the fares it will offer.
He also said there was a danger that Flybe’s decision to challenge Loganair on its busiest Scottish routes – which also include Kirkwall and Stornoway – “could be committing all parties involved in this [Flybe, Loganair and ferry operator NorthLink] to losses of several million pounds”.
Last year Loganair and Flybe announced an acrimonious parting of ways having jointly operated the route under a franchise since 2008 – with Loganair preparing to fly solo from 1 September for the first time in 24 years.
Flybe then announced it had teamed up with Eastern Airways to offer flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow in direct competition with Loganair.
That move was welcomed at the time by local politicians, but Hinkles said there was a danger that – while there may be more cheap tickets to and from Aberdeen in the short term – it could have damaging long term consequences.
He said if more passengers fly to Aberdeen that could damage NorthLink’s revenue, which could in turn impact on how the Scottish Government views the Northern Isles ferry service.
“The longer term implications are questions that arise in virtually every area,” Hinkles said.
It could impact on the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) and the extent to which the government is able to subsidise fares, he claimed.
In the longer term Loganair wants to replace its fleet of aircraft and “this is not helpful to the plans to do that”, and he suggested that the timescale for doing so “may go back slightly as a result – it depends how long this lasts”.
Ourmieres told local MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur in a conference call that, initially, Flybe’s initial commitment to serving the Scottish islands was for one year, and was at pains to stress that Loganair is in it for the long haul.
“The nuances of that, and the requirements of that, are probably frankly lost on them in [Flybe’s head office] Exeter, but it’s something we take very seriously.”
Responding to Ourmieres’ claim in The Daily Telegraph last week that Flybe would offer “more choices and competitive pricing”, Hinkles produced figures suggesting that Flybe’s top fare was £20 higher than Loganair’s even before baggage fees (a minimum of £44 return) and credit card surcharges were added in.
“I’m very confident that Loganair will continue to offer the best value to every customer,” he told members of the external transport forum.
Loganair will continue to include a 20kg baggage allowance in its tickets and supports 40 local jobs in Shetland out of 162 across the Highlands and Islands, he said.
He also poured cold water on Ourmieres’ assertion that Flybe would offer “improved connectivity”. He said there would be fewer onward connections than currently offered jointly by Loganair and Flybe, adding that Flybe had rejected Loganair’s offer of a codeshare deal beyond September.
Meanwhile, Hinkles also announced the introduction of a new loyalty scheme for frequent flyers, Clan Loganair.
He said it was linked to Loganair’s new reservation system and would, on average, allow travellers to get a taxes-only ticket after 17 return flights, rather than the 28 return flights under the previous Avios scheme.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said there were dangers inherent in a “cut-throat” price war of the sort seen between Virgin Atlantic and British Airways elsewhere in the UK in markets as unique as the islands.
He said it seemed Flybe was seeking to “cherry-pick the routes that appear the most financially advantageous for them” and see what they can achieve. “Whether it lasts a year is open to all kinds of questions,” Scott said.
He also raised the role airport operator HIAL had to play, saying Flybe’s proposed schedule has one service landing in Shetland five minutes after Sumburgh opens and the last one leaving five minutes before it closes each day.
With the potential for delays – weather-related and otherwise – Scott said HIAL would need to ask “hard questions of the new operator in terms of the current schedule”.
He was also unconvinced that Flybe is actually offering cheaper fares “once you add on all the charges”.
“You can hardly blame islanders for choosing the best way of getting on and off the island in terms of frequency and cost, and on the surface you welcome that additional choice, but worry about the sustainability of it in the long term,” he added.
Transport forum member and SIC councillor Davie Sandison said it would be “beneficial to invite Flybe to this forum to get an idea of their long-term intentions” and was told they would be invited to appear at the next meeting.
A Flybe spokeswoman said the company was “extremely disappointed by the inaccuracies voiced by Mr Hinkles as reported”.
“Flybe has been serving Scotland for over 20 years and remains fully committed to continuing to provide customers with the widest possible choice of affordable travel options in an environment of healthy competition,” she said. “This includes those routes operating from 1 September to the Highlands & Islands from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.”