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Transport / Industrial action causes Loganair to temporarily suspend Sumburgh/Kirkwall/Inverness service

Loganair flights between HIAL airports are affected – but one MSP has criticised the move

A Loganair ATR42 aircraft arriving at Sumburgh. Photo: Shetland News

FLIGHTS between Sumburgh Airport and Kirkwall/Inverness will be temporarily suspended by Loganair due to work-to-rule industrial action.

The suspension will take effect from Friday 17 March and will initially run until 30 April. Flights to and from non-HIAL airports such as Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh are not affected.

Loganair is also temporarily suspending flights from Inverness to Stornoway and Benbecula for the same reason.

But Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant has described the move as a “complete over-reaction”.

Unions representing employees at airports operated by Scottish Government-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) are engaged in discontinuous strike action and further action short of a strike, in the form of a work-to-rule.

Work-to-rule action like overtime bans and refusal of non-ambulance extensions. It is separate to strike action.

Loganair said the impact of work-to-rule is “far less predictable” than strikes and could cause cumulative disruption.

The airline said that if a single member of the HIAL team for example has time off work for sickness or a family emergency, their shift cannot be covered through overtime or shift swaps.

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“This leads to a position where shifts cannot be manned to the required minimum levels to enable flights to take place, causing cancellations and delays with either very limited advance notice or none at all,” the airline said in a statement on Friday.

“Where Loganair flights are operating from HIAL airports to other destinations unaffected by the industrial action – such as Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen – the impact can generally be managed within operational flexibility available on the day.

“However, where flights are taking place between HIAL airports – such as from Inverness to Kirkwall and onwards to Sumburgh, or Inverness to Stornoway – then the cumulative effect of rolling restrictions at each airport in turn means that it becomes impossible to reasonably assure the provision of a service between them.”

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Loganair said it is due to this that it has taken the “difficult decision” to temporarily suspend services between HIAL airports.

Customers booked on Loganair flights between these points will be contacted and offered the option of rebooking on alternative routes or a full refund.

A spokesperson for Loganair said: “We completely understand that this unprecedented step will be unwelcome news to communities who depend on the air services Loganair provides.

“It’s a step that we are taking with the utmost reluctance and only after careful consideration of all other options.

“We have sadly concluded that it’s simply not realistic to continue our efforts to provide services between HIAL airports when the action short of a strike is intended to disrupt and counter those efforts at every turn.

“The suspension provides advance – even if unwelcome – certainty around which our customers can adjust travel plans, as opposed to facing the risk of on-the-day flight cancellations or significant delays.

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“We hope that the period of suspension – initially through to 30 April – will provide time and space for the parties to this dispute to meet and reach a resolution, enabling these long-running services to resume thereafter.”

Labour MSP Grant said the air routes from Inverness from the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland are “essential lifeline services that enable islanders to attend medical appointments, attend family emergencies and meet tight travel deadlines”.

“Loganair instead needs to apply pressure on HIAL to get round the negotiating table, rather than on their customers in the islands who are already having to negotiate horrendous transport issues and have no influence in these matters,” she said.

“This reaction should make clear to HIAL that their staff go above and beyond what they are contracted to do to keep the airports running and that things would fall apart without their extra work which must be appropriately compensated and recognised.

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“HIAL must as a matter of urgency get back round the table with Unite and find a resolution to this dispute rather than allow our communities to be held to ransom.”

Members of the Prospect union are due to strike at HIAL airports this month in a dispute over pay, but Sumburgh will remain open as normal.

HIAL met with representatives from the trade unions on Wednesday (1 March).

The airport operator discussions were positive, but the trade unions confirmed that as no formal offer had been tabled, the strikes planned to start on 8 March would continue as planned.

Inglis Lyon, HIAL’s managing director said: “We apologise for the disruption this will cause for our customers. The ongoing industrial action is having a significant impact on our airline partners and the announcement by Loganair to temporarily suspend some flights will cause considerable disruption for our island communities.

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“At the meeting with the trade unions we sought, and obtained, clarity on the key elements on their claim in a bid to resolve the dispute. The unions appreciate HIAL’s position within the complexities of the wider public sector pay discussions.

“It is vital that we find a mutual solution to resolve this dispute and will now discuss our options within the parameters of public sector pay flexibility with the HIAL Board and Transport Scotland.”

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