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Transport / ‘We have to challenge fake news’ – Loganair chief executive

In an extensive interview with Shetland News Jonathan Hinkles explains the airline’s latest performance figures and expresses his concern about incorrect and damaging information circulating in the community

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

LOGANAIR has given further details on their performance for flights to and from Shetland during the first three months of the current financial year.

On Monday, the airline said that 99 per cent of scheduled flights serving Sumburgh in April, May and June 2023 had operated.

Loganair to expand London service after recording healthy passenger numbers across all services

Breaking down these figure airline chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said that of those 1,107 flights 65.1 per cent operated within 15 minutes of schedule and 78.7 per cent within 30 minutes.

Seven flights were delayed by more than three hours – one in April, four in May and two in June – at which point customers can claim compensation from the airline. There were also 41 weather related cancellations during the period.

Loganair also responded to the many stories circulating in the community about the airline’s performance and, highlighting some of these, Hinkles said the airline needed to counter “fake news” to protect its reputation.

The chief executive said the aviation industry, and with it Loganair, was still suffering from the double blow of the Covid pandemic as well as Brexit.

“This is an industry that still isn’t back at full strength either from a staffing point of view or the [spare] parts issue. These two issues are still the fallout from the pandemic and Brexit,” he said.

“Put these two together [they make for a] challenging environment for the whole industry, and Loganair is right in the middle of it.”

With regards to the Sumburgh performance, Hinkles said Loganair had one of its aircrafts grounded with a fault at Sumburgh from the end of June and only got regulatory approval to move it back to Glasgow for repairs in late July.

“What that meant is that the standby cover that we would normally have within the operation to be able to slot another aircraft in had already been deployed,” Hinkles said.

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“We are hoping to get that aircraft back into service within the next ten days.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles. Photo: Shetland News

“We have put a lot of investment into increasing our spare parts holding for the new ATR aircraft. But there is still a problem, because we can’t get everything on the shelf that we would like to have on the shelf.

“It’s not the case that there have been more technical events; it’s been the time to fix them (…) because of this global supply chain issue with shortages of spare parts, (…) and it doesn’t matter whether you are an airline big or small.

“That’s what has been slowing us down, but it has been slowing down the whole industry.”

And he added that the airline had also to contend with delays in the workflow of ground handling at airports, and that it had “no magic wand” it could wave to get to the top of the queue.

He continued saying: “Delivering the service to and from Shetland, what you take for granted elsewhere, you can’t take for granted when it comes to Shetland’s air services.”

And he dismissed any suggestion that Loganair had overstretched itself by the recent acquisition of additional routes across the UK and beyond and countered that a stronger and larger company was of benefit for the routes servicing rural Scotland.

“It is good for the Highlands and Islands service that Loganair is a much bigger airline which much bigger engineering infrastructure to call on,” he said.

“The airline’s DNA is firmly rooted in the Highlands and Islands; this is still a hugely important part of what we do.”

Hinkles said the fact that Loganair was employing 36 people at Sumburgh was proof of the point he was making, adding that the other contracts the company was holding at Sumburgh (oil and gas as well as Royal Mail) further strengthened its service there.

And a rounded, bigger business was able to deliver more for communities like Shetland, including a large choice of onward connections, he said.

Turning to social media and the way Loganair is perceived in the community, Hinkles said that as a company Loganair had to challenge fake news.

His comments came after one of the administrators of the popular Facebook page discussing Loganair delays and cancellations, Emma Harmer, felt she could no longer continue with the task after the airline had been in touch with her employer, Shetland Islands Council.

The page had been created in April last year as an outlet for people to vent their frustration with flight cancellations and delays. It has more than 4,000 members.

Harmer said she was aware that the page was, at times, carrying potentially defamatory or inaccurate information, and although those comments were regularly removed, she acknowledged that this could have a detrimental effect.

Hinkles said: “From a customer’s feedback point of view there are some good and very valid, honest and open feedback on social media; and there is some that [is] not accurate and in the territory of fake news.

“Where we get first hand issues from a customer’s point of view, we will fix them.

“It is our job to filter out the feedback that we need to act on, but also to challenge fake news that is out there.”

He said rumours such as speculations the Sumburgh, Kirkwall to Inverness route would be discontinued needed to be acted upon because these rumours were untrue, and the associated social media noise was damaging the company.

Another example Hinkles mentioned was a recent social media post from a passenger claiming they were ‘bumped off’ a flight from Aberdeen because of overbooking.

The chief executive said: “Everybody who sees that will react saying this is dreadful and terrible.”

But it wasn’t true.

Hinkles added: “We looked into that, and what actually happened was the customer had never completed their booking because their payment card had been declined, so the booking wasn’t confirmed.

“When they got to the check-in desk at Aberdeen, the team there said we don’t have a booking for you. They looked into the system and could see the booking had not been confirmed a couple of months earlier.”

He added that rather than charging the full fare to allow the customer to fly, Loganair honoured the fare the customer would have paid had the booking gone through the original booking was attempted.

“But what appears on social media is them saying they had been bumped off a flight due to overbooking,” Hinkles said.

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