PASSENGERS travelling on Loganair flights in the Highlands and Islands are now being charged an extra £5 per ticket as the airline attempts to recoup hundreds of thousands of pounds it has lost due to the recent air traffic control industrial action.
However, Shetland News understands that due to a technical change to the way in which fares are calculated, island residents on the Air Discount Scheme will not pay the extra £5 – which has been added onto tickets since late May – as the Scottish Government will effectively meet the cost.
The airline says it has incurred a “significant” financial impact – thought to be over £400,000 in total – from the industrial action over pay from air traffic controllers working for airport operators Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL).
While a 24-hour strike in May cancelled a day of flights at airports across the region including Sumburgh, action short of a strike – which began on 1 April and was suspended on Wednesday after a revised pay offer – has arguably been more debilitating for Loganair.
This has included air traffic controllers not working beyond airport opening hours.
It is understood a number of Loganair flights in the Highlands and Islands have been cancelled due to delays meaning services would have run past airport opening hours, with the airline having to put customers in overnight accommodation and schedule replacement flights.
A source said that on a Sunday in late May four Loganair flights, all of which involved Stornoway, were cancelled at a cost of over £50,000 to the company because airport hours could not be extended, with over 100 people requiring overnight accommodation.
The action short of a strike led to Loganair rescheduling some of its flights in a bid to lessen the chance of flights running over airport closing times.
The airline outlined its concerns to the Scottish Government’s transport secretary Michael Matheson.
It is understood that some flights may have had to be reduced to their winter timetables, including the Inverness to Sumburgh via Kirkwall route, to mitigate costs if the industrial action continues.
A second one-day strike planned for Wednesday (12 June) at airports at Benbecula, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Sumburgh was called off following the new pay offer.
However, Loganair had already cancelled its flights for that day, offering alternative travel arrangements to passengers on surrounding days, and it was unable to reinstate its services.
Members of the Prospect union are currently voting on whether to accept the new pay offer.
In late May Loganair also decided to no longer schedule extra flights during the period of industrial action to recover from bouts of weather disruption in a bid to “protect” its standby aircraft.
The airline also decided during the industrial action that it would cancel flights rather than incur delays when there was weather disruption to await improvements in conditions, reducing the number of knock-on delays and subsequent problems with airport opening hours.
It is further understood that all of the measures, which Loganair were reluctant to make, will be reviewed once operations are stabilised.
Councillor Ryan Thomson, who chairs of Shetland’s transport partnership ZetTrans, said that fares going up on island routes was “frankly lamentable”.
“Instances like this further highlight the real fragility of our lifeline service,” he said.
“We are now at a critical stage where we need to see a concrete and sustainable resolution to this dispute before it hits the pockets of islanders.
“Loganair have had a substantial financial hit, and have to operate their business in a financially viable way. It is very unfortunate, however, that the burden must fall on the customer.”