SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott says he will raise concerns that Flybe challenging Loganair on the islands’ most profitable routes will ultimately result in a worse air service with Scotland’s transport minister.
He and Orkney colleague Liam McArthur will press Humza Yousaf on local reservations about what will happen after Flybe begins operating services – in conjunction with Eastern Airways – from 1 September.
The two airlines have fallen out after several years of working together in a franchise arrangement, which officially concludes at the end of the month.
Flybe will then compete for passengers on three routes a day to Aberdeen and one each to Edinburgh and Glasgow, which has led to accusations of “cherry picking”.
There are fears that it will imperil Loganair’s business model and, if it proves that there is only room for one airline, the loss of the longstanding airline could leave Shetland without a host of key lifeline services including mail deliveries and NHS patient transfers to the mainland.
Also at stake could be less lucrative routes to Kirkwall and Inverness, as well as more frequent daily returns to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Scott said on Monday: “Flybe/Eastern’s proposed service starting next month is extremely limited. They will use one plane based in Aberdeen to fly to Sumburgh, Edinburgh and Glasgow in one day.
“They are not offering a day return to Edinburgh or Glasgow from Shetland. There is no service between Orkney and Shetland. The fares seem the same as Loganair and they charge for hold baggage.
“Competition should be good. It could provide passengers with greater choice and lower fares. But that does not seem to be the case here.
“So the danger is that Flybe/Eastern are cherry picking the routes they think can make money. That could damage Loganair and Shetland could end up with a worse service. These are lifeline air services. This is not London to New York with British Airways and Virgin knocking lumps out of each other.”
McArthur, meanwhile, highlighted the importance of onward connections to flights across the UK and internationally. He said that, rather than offering more choice and greater opportunity, it appeared “the opposite seems to be true”.
While islanders would be able to book onto connecting flights with different airlines, the absence of a formal agreement means that weather or other disruption could leave them in limbo, while facing greater expense as a result of Air Passenger Duty being levied on flights.
“In the absence of any codeshare or similar agreement between Flybe and Loganair, many existing conncetions will simply cease to be available, making travel to and from the islands more difficult,” he said.
He called for the airlines to “protect connections on routes where they are not competing” and urged Yousaf to support that call.
“Given the amount of public funding provided through the Air Discount Scheme (ADS), I see no reason why Flybe and Loganair should not be required to deliver a good level of service, including better onward connections.”
Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles said the airline had “spotted the major issues with onward connectivity from Shetland to other points in the UK as soon as the Flybe announcement was made”.
“It would be a truly retrograde step for the islands if this connectivity was lost, and for that reason, we’ve kept dialogue open with Flybe around some form of future partnership.
“This takes both parties to co-operate and, whilst I can promise Loganair’s ongoing commitment to those discussions, the matter unfortunately does not seem to have merited the same level of importance within Flybe.
“Consequently, we seem no further forward than we were two months ago. I welcome the involvement of the islands’ MSPs and the minister to try to help us protect this connectivity for the benefit of Shetland’s economic and cultural links throughout the UK.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman responded by saying that the new Flybe/Eastern Airways tie-up “will increase capacity and choice on some of the most popular intra-Scotland routes.
“Whilst these companies are running commercial serivces, the minister for transport and the islands will meet with senior management at both airlines and encourage them to explore options for codesharing arrangements to maintain current levels of onward connectivity for passengers. Ultimately, this is a commercial decision for the airlines to make.”
Shetland News has also approached Flybe for a response.
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