LOGANAIR has axed Glasgow and Inverness flights from its Sumburgh schedule this winter as a result of continued low demand.
The flights to and from Glasgow and Inverness are due to be suspended later this month.
Loganair said a limited schedule of Glasgow flights will be retained over the Christmas and New Year period in anticipation of increased demand.
Glasgow and Inverness services to and from Sumburgh will resume as part of Loganair’s summer 2021 timetable from late March.
It comes as Loganair battles against the impact of coronavirus – with chief executive Jonathan Hinkles recently revealing that bookings were down by around 60 per cent as less people travel.
The airline ran essential services during lockdown before services were opened to general travel in the summer.
Winter is a traditionally quieter period for airlines, but with Glasgow and Inverness flights on hold, the only mainland destinations for Shetland flyers over the coming months will be Aberdeen or Edinburgh.
Hinkles told Shetland News: “Changing flights and suspending routes is a step we do not take lightly, but where travel demand remains at less than half of last year’s levels due to the pandemic, we simply cannot fly near-empty aeroplanes to maintain a full schedule.
“Unlike other forms of public transport, Loganair’s services are operated on a commercial basis – if we carry no passengers, we receive no income.
“To safeguard the future of the remaining services, we have had to take action to adjust our schedule for the coming winter and plan to maintain our schedule from Sumburgh to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Kirkwall.”
Customers with bookings on flights affected by the changes have been notified by Loganair within the last 24 hours and have received an e-mail setting out options to rebook or obtain a refund where their flights have been cancelled.
All customers can log-in to the ‘manage my booking’ function on Loganair’s website at any time to check the status of their flights.
Chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson, who also chairs the isles’ external transport forum, said he had some concern over the suspension of links to the mainland.
He said anyone affected by the changes should get in touch with transport planners at the council or transport forum ZetTrans.
This feedback could then inform discussions with the Scottish Government.
“We have had contact with Mr Hinkles, and while I can fully understand the reasoning and circumstances, there is a concern about the suspension of air services to Glasgow and Inverness over the winter period,” Thomson said.
“I’m fully appreciative of the unprecedented pressures on Loganair due to the substantial reductions in passenger numbers as Covid-19 continues to have impacts on people’s need to travel.
“However, the fact is that air services provide critical lifeline links to support public health and socio economic well being. Therefore it is important that we engage with Scottish Government and Loganair to discuss the sustainability of services over the winter and beyond.
“To help inform these discussions, it would be helpful if anyone who has been impacted by the schedule changes over the winter or has any concerns about the future of air services, contact myself, ZetTrans or SIC transport planning with any details they feel important.
“ZetTrans will make contact with Transport Scotland to arrange a meeting to discuss the situation and the concerns we have about sustainability of services even in the short term.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This is a huge blow to people who need to travel between Shetland and Inverness.
“Aviation has been very badly affected by Covid-19 and the ensuing restrictions.
“However, these are lifeline services and should be recognised as such.
“While Loganair have endeavoured to keep transport links open, they cannot do this without intervention and it shows the need for more Public Service Obligations to protect our routes to our islands and remote communities.”
Steve Mathieson, VisitScotland development manager for Shetland, said: “The impact of Covid-19 has been tremendous on the tourism industry, with the affects being throughout the transport sector as well as on accommodation providers, attractions and tours.
“Although in an ideal world we would like all services to remain at a normal level, we have to understand that this is a very difficult time for the aviation industry and that certain commercial decisions have to be taken to ensure the long-term viability of Loganair.
“They have continued flying and providing a service throughout the crisis and have certainly helped to maintain public confidence in flying to destinations such as Shetland through their Healthy Flying protocols.
“Although flights to Glasgow and Inverness are being suspended for a limited period, I know that Loganair are committed to providing a long-term service for Shetland and I see it as very positive that they recently stated that no price increases are anticipated and that the Bergen and one-stop Manchester routes are being reintroduced next summer, when we all hope for a return to something like normality.
“VisitScotland will continue to work alongside partners like Loganair to help maintain a viable and healthy transport service for both locals and visitors and promote the islands as a destination when appropriate.”
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