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Transport / No space for newspapers on morning flight due to ‘rapid’ increase in mail and parcels heading north

Lerwick named the UK’s ‘hotspot’ for deliveries during lockdown

The mail plane, which arrives into Sumburgh in the early morning, pictured in March. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

DAILY newspapers will only touch down in Shetland in mid-afternoon for the next couple of weeks due to a lack of space on the early morning mail flight as a result of the “rapid” rise in the volume of deliveries and parcels being sent to the isles.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said papers should start arriving into Shetland earlier in the day again on weekdays when an early morning passenger plane from Aberdeen is reinstated to the airline’s schedule in mid-June.

It comes as the Royal Mail says Lerwick is the “UK’s hotspot” when it comes to deliveries during lockdown.

New research from the mail service showed that Lerwick has seen the highest number of deliveries per individual address during the lockdown.

One local postie said that staff are dealing with “twice as many parcels as we would sort and deliver at this time of year including local mail”.

The increase in deliveries to Shetland has meant that a special arrangement put in place during the lockdown between Loganair and the Royal Mail for newspapers to be carried on the early morning mail flight has ended due to a lack of space.

Loganair chief Hinkles explained that newspapers normally fly to Shetland on the first scheduled flight of the day from Aberdeen to Sumburgh.

Since the start of the pandemic, though, there has only been one scheduled flight from Aberdeen as Loganair moved to a skeleton service – with the plane departing at 1.45pm.

“With this in mind, Loganair made arrangements with Royal Mail for newspapers to be carried on the Royal Mail dedicated freighter aircraft which leaves Aberdeen at 07:20 on six days per week,” Hinkles said.

“Royal Mail gave exceptional permission for this arrangement.

“However, the volume of mail – particularly parcels – to Shetland has continued to rise rapidly in recent weeks to the point where there now simply isn’t enough space on the Royal Mail flight to carry newspapers together with the mail, which must travel to meet the Universal Service Obligation.”

From mid-June, the provisional interim scheduled service timetable includes the restoration of an early morning passenger flight from Aberdeen to Sumburgh, on which newspapers can once again be carried, Hinkles said.

“For the two weeks in the meantime, Loganair will fly newspapers on the first available flight of the day north which will be the 13:45 departure from Aberdeen on weekdays and 09:30 on Saturdays.”

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles. Photo: Shetland News

The airline chief said the Loganair team has “worked flat out during the pandemic to try to maintain all of our normal services, whether it be delivering newspapers or essential supplies of pharmaceuticals or medical samples”.

“The spirit of co-operation amongst our stakeholders has been invaluable in helping us to make things happen that normally wouldn’t or couldn’t, working together behind the scenes to preserve as much of a semblance of normality as we can,” he added.

“In this case, delivery of the mail has to take precedence over newspapers and whilst there will be a two-week interruption in morning availability of newspapers in Shetland, this will be back to normal from Monday 15 June.”

Sound Service Station said on Facebook under the new set-up newspapers will now only reach its Lerwick shop at around 4.30pm or 5pm.

Lerwick, meanwhile, beat central London, Kirkwall and the Hebrides to top Royal Mail’s list of the lockdown delivery hotspots.

The data is based on Royal Mail tracked deliveries.

Royal Mail also said that nearly half of UK adults have been receiving more parcel deliveries since lockdown measures were introduced in March.

Royal Mail’s director of public affairs and policy David Gold said: “Having analysed our parcel delivery data across our national network of delivery offices, Lerwick in Scotland has emerged as the UK’s lockdown delivery hotspot.

“The data shows that during such unprecedented times, parcel delivery is just as important for our rural customers as it is for our city customers.

“We understand the importance of the postal service in keeping the UK connected at this time. In doing so, we also take the health and safety of our colleagues, our customers and the local communities in which we operate very seriously.”

The Royal Mail said it was one of the first delivery companies to introduce contact free delivery.

Where an item won’t fit through a customer’s letterbox, the postie places the item at the customer’s door, knocks, and steps aside to a safe distance while the customer retrieves their item.

Royal Mail is also temporarily not handing over hand-held devices to customers to capture signatures.

It has also changed its standard ways of working to ensure that, wherever possible, colleagues stay two metres apart.

It has also implemented a new rule so that only one person is in a Royal Mail delivery vehicle at any one time.