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Flybe delays & cancellations: teething troubles or a sign of things to come?

The Flybe/Eastern Airways Embraer arriving at Sumburgh last week. Photo: Shetland News/Hans J. Marter.

CUSTOMERS travelling with budget airline Flybe’s new service in and out of Shetland endured a day of frustration on Monday after an Aberdeen flight was diverted due to the wind – knocking its remaining schedule several hours out of sync.

Flybe, which began running its own Embraer jets in conjunction with Eastern Airways last Friday (1 September), saw its BE2902 flight diverted back to Aberdeen as a precaution. It is understood the wind speed at the time was around 35mph, with gusts of around 40mph – not uncommon conditions at Sumburgh Airport.

Loganair’s smaller planes kept running throughout the day with around a third of its Sumburgh flights subject to delays of an hour or less.

The upshot was that Aberdeen flight, and a subsequent Sumburgh-Glasgow flight, were both cancelled. A flight due in from Aberdeen just after 7pm was cancelled too, while a flight from Edinburgh (originally due in at 4.30pm) eventually landed at 10.04pm after Sumburgh agreed to keep the airport open much later than normal.

It meant the single Embraer aircraft being used on the route was stuck in Shetland overnight, resulting in the first flight north from Aberdeen on Tuesday morning being cancelled. The 8.05am Sumburgh-Aberdeen leg then departed just under an hour late. Later arrivals from Aberdeen and Glasgow on Tuesday afternoon were also both more than 90 minutes late, according to airport operator HIAL’s website.

Passenger Craig Johnson was due to be on the cancelled Aberdeen flight yesterday and eventually opted to be rebooked on a Tuesday morning departure instead.

Vincent Hodder (right) said the past two days' performance had been "very, very poor". Photo: Shetland News/Neil Riddell.

But he turned up at Aberdeen Airport only to discover the 6.50am departure had also been cancelled “due to essential equipment being missing (the airplane)”.

“No emails, no text message, no prior warning,” he said. “Just made to arrive and sit about. I’m no genius, but when you’re missing an airplane it’s fairly obvious no one is going anywhere.”

One passenger who had been waiting to fly from Edinburgh to Sumburgh in the afternoon told Shetland News that 19 people had to be bumped off the flight after the plane arrived from Aberdeen.

She said two police officers were drafted in by staff before passengers were informed about this, with 16 people initially putting themselves forward to stay the night in Edinburgh.

Flybe’s chief revenue officer Vincent Hodder said the two airlines were “extremely disappointed” with the service’s performance in the past two days.

He said that wind direction was a factor along with wind speed, but rather than a systemic issue it was something he hopes will be remedied “as the operators on the jet aircraft become accustomed to the airport and get comfortable with the length of the runway and the approach”.

“It’s more of a teething issue [than anything else],” he told Shetland News. “Loganair pilots at this stage would have more experience operating [in and out of Sumburgh], but they will rapidly develop that expertise.

“Deploying additional aircraft wasn’t the problem, having additional crew was the issue.”

He said Flybe was “quite short of pilots and crew over the remaining two months of the summer” but would then enter into a “more stable operational period” thereafter.

“We will look at options for deploying additional aircraft support into Scotland to support the operations given the very poor operational delivery over the past two days. It’s obviously of great concern to us, so we’re looking at back-up plans – what we can do quickly to offset any poor performance operationally.

“The feedback from both operations teams is we’re very, very sorry. This is not an indicator of what the operation is going to be like, and we’ll get the fixes in place very, very quickly and start to deliver the stable, reliable service that the islands deserve.”

Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles.

Loganair’s managing director Jonathan Hinkles said that although his airline did experience some delays on Monday, “we were able to fully recover this by the end of the day with no knock-on impacts to today’s schedules”.

“Fourteen of our 22 flights to and from Sumburgh yesterday were on time and we had no diversions or cancellations, with our longest delay being just over one hour,” he said.

“Our aircraft and crews are able to operate on any available runways at Sumburgh, which provides us with greater flexibility to contend with prevailing weather conditions such as yesterday’s moderate winds.”

Hinkles said Loganair was offering a “rescue fare” so that customers on cancelled flights with their rivals can travel for £60 (or less with the Air Discount Scheme) one way, including taxes, “provided we have seats available and it won’t delay the departure of our flight to do so”.

“Details will be available via the Loganair teams at the respective airports if such situations arise, and this new initiative forms part of Loganair’s ongoing commitment to the communities we serve.”

On Friday, Flybe’s partner Eastern Airways’ chief operations officer Tony Burgess said: “We are no stranger to Shetland, we know the environment, the company has 30+ aircrafts, so if there are problems with the timetable we can easily substitute.”

A HIAL spokesman said it did not have any operaitonal concerns at this stage, adding the airport’s team was “being flexible in accommodating extension requests as we would do for any operator”.

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