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Letters / Open letter to Shetland air passengers

At the beginning of May, I wrote to offer an update and Loganair’s apologies to our customers in Shetland around the reliability and integrity of air services.

Between April and May, we moved from 61 per cent to 69 per cent of our flights operating on time, and we’ve halved the number of flights impacted by serious delay or cancellation in the month, from 19 in April to 9 in May.

Only 81 per cent of our Shetland customers arrived within an hour of schedule in April and this has improved to 89 per cent in May, with 98 per cent arriving within two hours of schedule.

All this says that we still have quite a way to go in getting services to where we all want them to be, yet overall we are moving in the right direction.

Even so, we know that if you were on one of those nine disrupted flights or another service that didn’t go on time, the statistics don’t make it any easier. So why aren’t things getting better more quickly?

One look at the national headlines makes clear that there has been an unprecedented level of travel disruption of late in the aviation sector. This is having a big impact on our Shetland services and the aircraft and crews who fly them.

It’s worth taking a moment to set out how this can impact Shetland flights.

One of our three daily Sumburgh-Aberdeen flights runs onwards to Manchester to provide a same-plane service. That’s proving popular, with over 1,000 passengers using the Manchester-Sumburgh link in May.

However, we’ve seen some big delays at Manchester recently waiting for assistance for those with reduced mobility to disembark and board the aircraft, which is a service provided by the airport. That has led to sizeable knock-on delays to Aberdeen-Sumburgh flights, and has led our crews’ shift times to be extended and delayed too.

To pick one of countless examples, an impact of two hours in Manchester one afternoon not only delayed the evening Aberdeen-Sumburgh flight but led to a three-hour delay on the next day’s Sumburgh flight due to the crew’s working hours.

There are many such issues – two major UK airports running out of fuel, more air traffic control delays than we’ve seen before, and airports generally congested at times you’d least expect with pretty much every flight regardless of airline running off schedule.

The whole system is running under severe pressure, and Loganair is one of six airlines directly engaging with the UK Government on how to fix these problems.

Distant though they may seem, unless we completely disconnect Shetland from the wider UK air network – which we don’t believe is in anyone’s interests – we can’t isolate Loganair’s Sumburgh flights from the effect of these issues.

For our part, we’re still in the throes of our winter aircraft overhaul programme – which has taken two months longer than planned due to some major issues in timely receipt of essential spare parts.

Once complete, it will restore standby aircraft availability to improve resilience.

Our crew training programme for new pilots and cabin crew joining Loganair is progressing, and we have the right number of staff within the airline, albeit with training still taking place.

Absence amongst our team members can still cause unexpected and short-notice issues – just as it is doing for provision of essential services – as we’re continuing to see Covid-19 absences as many employers and local authorities are experiencing.

The completion of our crew training programme will similarly help us to improve standby and resilience.

Our update today is therefore to report on a work-in-progress. If we had a magic wand to resolve all of the issues that our entire industry is facing, we’d have waved it long before now.

Clearly there isn’t one, even though that won’t stop us working flat out to restore the levels of punctuality and reliability that everyone rightly expects of us.

There are many things across the industry right now that we can’t fix, but we will continue to do everything we can to look after our customers.

Jonathan Hinkles
Loganair CEO

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