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Letters / Victim of Loganair’s rapid expansion

Over the past few years, it’s been well reported about the significant drop in reliability, of Scotland’s ‘local’ airline and going by my recent personal experience, there’s been little improvement. So, what’s changed? What’s changed since the Flybe days?

First off, yes the weather over the past three months has been pretty rubbish, but what’s new? It’s winter; wintry weather happens, we live in the north and more importantly, weather doesn’t cause “technical issues”. With weather, airports can periodically close, but they generally re-open and this seems to be a problem for Loganair – scheduling and a very busy schedule at that.

As most know, Loganair has the monopoly on the Highlands and Islands routes. It’s a lifeline service (the only other option being the ferry) and subsidised by the Scottish government. Where I’m going with this letter, is better explained, in the following examples/actual events.

17 November 2022 – We arrived at Aberdeen airport, checked in, only to find our flight delayed. No big deal, it happens but zero information given. A few hours later, we boarded one of the larger ATR’s, taxied and took off.

About 15/20 minutes into the flight, the engine pitch changed, we banked, the pilot announced we had an electrical fault and had to immediately return to Aberdeen. Bit of a bummer but again, these things happen.

We touched down on the ground, engineer arrived, we waited a few minutes and then were told it wasn’t a quick fix, we’d need to disembark. Fair enough, if it’s not a quick fix it’s not a quick fix.

Off we went to gate 10 to wait further information. Thirty minutes pass, gate 8 is called, the gate we’ve just disembarked through, Loganair’s flight to Dublin is ready to depart…wait? That was the plane we were just on?

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Plane boards, plane departs, Shetland’s passengers wait in information darkness. An hour passes, finally a Da1X [Dalcross Handling] representative is cornered, and it’s announced we’re waiting on a flight to arrive from Manchester.

A one off? Unfortunately not!

6 March 2023 – Edinburgh to Shetland, morning flight. We arrive at the airport, check in, board and depart on time. The flight goes relatively seamless, until we reach Shetland. We start our approach, but unluckily a snow shower rumbles through and Sumburgh closes the runway. We abort, no big deal, these things happen.

Unfortunately, this was a full flight, with a large payload and they hadn’t been able to take much additional fuel onboard. The captain makes this announcement and off to Inverness we divert.

We arrive at Inverness, quick top up of fuel, with the aim to try again at the re-opened Sumburgh airport? You’d think so, but you’d be incorrect. The captain announced that the airplane was scheduled to be elsewhere and we’d be returning to Edinburgh where alternative options would be detailed once we picked up our bags and made our way to the Menzies desk at check-in.

Options were – overnight stay and try again in thew morning or bus to Aberdeen for an 18:00hrs flight north (or the 16:15hrs Edinburgh to Shetland after I pointed out there was seats available on the Loganair website).

Unlucky? I don’t think so.

13 March 2023 – Checked in at ABZ for the 18:00hrs flight to Shetland. Swiftly boarded a packed, large ATR only to then sit in silence for approximately 45 minutes.

Rumours of a technical issue circulate, a mention of waiting for baggage is announced over the tannoy, and then the ominous thud thud thud of an engineer could be heard walking down the aisle. A quick inspection and then the announcement is made that we all need to disembark, the airplane has gone tech.

We disembark and as we walk through gate 8, we’re informed they require 19 volunteers to change to the 06:35 morning flight the following morning as the replacement plane has a smaller capacity.

If they can’t get 19 volunteers, the last people to check in would be taken off the flight. Again, these things happen but unfortunately, the plot thickens. Nineteen souls chosen, eventually taxied to a hotel, fed and watered.

Next morning all 19 turn up for the 05:30hrs check in to be immediately told our flight is estimated to depart at 13:00hrs. After sitting about 6hrs, whilst watching charter flight after charter flight depart Aberdeen for Sumburgh, the Glasgow and Edinburgh flights arrive in Sumburgh we’re finally told our flight is cancelled and we need to head for the DalX desk for an update. We’re now on the 18:00 flight. For a mercy, the 18:00 actually departed and arrived in Sumburgh, but a good few had given up and headed to the ferry, or in my case the more reliable charter flight option.

What does this all mean? In my opinion it’s becoming very obvious that we are victims of Loganair’s rapid expansion. What’s changed?

Where Flybe had a pool of planes to service the islands, we’re now in a pool of planes servicing the peripherals of Europe and the new destinations are more important than our lifeline services.

What’s my point? This is a lifeline service, which is subsidised through the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) by tax payers’ money.

The current service is playing second fiddle to the Loganair’s bigger/wider operation and the government needs to reiterate/review their expectations for the routes.

I would highly recommend our MSP and MP raise the current inadequate standard of service in both parliaments and start putting pressure on the operator to do better.

Craig Johnson

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