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Flybe to pull out of Sumburgh routes

FLYBE has confirmed it will pull out of routes to and from Shetland from early January – only four months after it went head to head with former franchise partner Loganair.

The airline will withdraw from routes to and from Sumburgh Airport from 8 January because of “disappointing” passenger numbers.

Flybe said it will “offer all customers with existing bookings for travel after this date the option of a full refund, or alternatively being re-booked on alternate flights with Loganair as close to their original timings as possible, at no additional cost.”

Flybe teamed up with operator Eastern Airways and went into direct competition with Loganair on 1 September after years of working as partners.

It said its move would bring lower fares to flights to and from Shetland – something which largely came to fruition – while its Embraer jet cut travel times.

But it came under fire for running services to/from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow using just one plane, which often lead to knock-on delays in poor weather.

Interim chief commercial officer Ronnie Matheson said: “Serving Scotland is one of the most important parts of the Flybe business and we are extremely disappointed to have had to take this decision.

“We entered the market with a strong commitment to offer a faster more comfortable service with more choice, which delivered on the long overdue lowering of fares that islanders have been calling for, for so many, many years.

“After looking at all factors, having driven down prices on the three Shetland routes, passenger numbers have been disappointing. Flybe continually evaluates its schedules and we also took on board the concerns voiced during the second public meeting held in Sumburgh recently over the robustness of the schedule operated on our behalf by Eastern Airways’ Embraer 170 jet.

“We promised to evaluate the situation, which is what we have now done. The outcome, with sincerest regret, is that rather than continue to persevere, we withdraw from the route sooner rather than later.”

Flybe also confirmed it will continue to sponsor next year’s Shetland Relay For Life event.

Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles said it was his view that there was only ever room for one airline on the routes.

“The support from the Shetland community for Loganair has been simply tremendous, and the community has resoundingly chosen to support Scotland’s Airline ahead of our competitor,” he said.

“It’s now up to us to ensure that we re-double our efforts to reward this trust placed in Loganair by providing the best range of reliable and affordable air services that we possibly can.”

Hinkles’ airline added in a press release that “extra Loganair services cannot and will not replace the huge volume of air seats provided during this period of competition, which has driven fares down to unsustainable levels and caused heavy losses for both airlines”.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott added: “I am disappointed that the airline has had to withdraw as they brought price competition to the benefit of islanders. Flybe have been commendably honest about their operational performance which has simply not been up to the standard they or passengers would want.

“I’m afraid that while we want competition to bring down fares, the challenge for both Flybe and Loganair was carrying enough passengers to remain economic, particularly through the winter. In many ways today is very disappointing but not totally surprising.”

Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson said he had “hoped for the customers using the service that the competition would continue for longer than it did, as it drove down prices to levels unseen before”.

But added that “given the research the SIC had done previously we had concluded long before 1 September that two operators on the route wouldn’t work long term.”