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Transport / Airline to offer cheaper travel for youngsters in bid to fill seats

Photo: Shetland News

LOGANAIR is set offer cheaper travel for children in an attempt to fill up larger replacement planes the airline is set to introduce in the new year.

Managing director Jonathan Hinkles revealed at a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum on Wednesday that the existing child discount will increase from 33 per cent to 50 per cent on the Sumburgh and Aberdeen route.

The airline will also trial a new scheme in the school holidays at Easter, summer and October on routes connecting Sumburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow which will see over 1,000 seats on offer to children priced at just the air tax.

Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

He said the school holiday scheme could see savings of between £100 and £150 return per child.

It comes as Loganair gets set to introduce new ATR planes on Sumburgh routes to replace its existing smaller Saab 2000 and 340 planes.

Two 70-seat ATR 72-600s will come into play on a number of services at the end of January, with the 50-seat Saab 2000s getting replaced first.

This will provide a “significant increase in our seat capacity,” Hinkles said, including a 44 per cent increase on Sumburgh/Aberdeen routes in 2020 as well as a 74 per cent boost on Sumburgh/Glasgow services.

The replacement of the Saab 2000s and then the 340s will be phased in through to the end of 2022, and the new ATRs should provide a greater reduction in carbon emissions.

Hinkles said the ATRs have the “lowest carbon emissions per passenger of any commercial transport”, with CO2 emissions up to nine times lower than an equivalent journey by ferry.

Emissions are also 30 per cent lower than the existing Saab 340.

Hinkles said there were a “number of areas we have looked at” in terms of filling up the extra seats the ATRs will offer.

The move to make travel cheaper for children was welcomed by councillors on the forum, with Shetland Central member Davie Sandison saying it was a “really welcome development”.

The 50 per cent discount on Sumburgh-Aberdeen fares will be bookable from next week for travel on new bookings from late March.

Hinkles said on average just four per cent of passengers on the flights to and from Aberdeen were children, with the airline looking to increase the affordability for families as a result.

Lerwick councillor Stephen Leask, however, said he was often disappointed by the numbers on the current planes when he flies south.

He questioned whether reducing fares more significantly across the board could be the answer to filing up the new ATRs.

Hinkles said, however, there was a “very fine balance” for a private airline with no subsidy when it came to ticket prices.

He said during the Flybe competition a few years ago “fares more than halved, but the numbers of customers travelling only increased by around 20 per cent”.

Leask brought up the “monopoly” word when it came to current operations – but Hinkles said Loganair faces competition from the NorthLink ferry.

The councillor also commended Loganair for its focus on emissions when it came to the replacement planes.

Speaking about the ATR 42-500s which are due to come into service later down the line to replace Saab 340, Hinkles said the airline will also reconfigure their lay-outs to allow for a row with seven inches more leg room designated for NHS patients who may have a leg injury.

The airline boss said he hoped this may alleviate some demand pressure on the air ambulance.

Hinkles added that group travel should be more affordable on the new plane due to their size, with in theory there being a greater number of cheaper seats available in advance.

VisitScotland’s Steve Mathieson questioned whether the replacement planes will have the same weather limits as the current aircraft, asking whether they would land in this week’s windy weather.

Hinkles said they have the same limits as the Saab 340, adding that he is “very comfortable” with what he has seen from them.

He said it was testament to the ATRs that they are used on oil industry flights to and from Scatsta, with no cancellations at the North Mainland airport on Wednesday.

“They are tried and tested for the environments of Shetland,” Hinkles said.

Representatives from Transport Scotland and NorthLink Ferries did not attend the external transport forum meeting on Wednesday due to “external transport issues”, according to chair Steven Coutts – namely the boat being cancelled as a result of the weather.