YESTERDAY (Wednesday) Scotland’s transport minister Fiona Hyslop arrived by plane to Shetland and left for Orkney on the boat – two lifeline services that have faced critique in recent months and years.
Capacity and shared cabins remain the most pressing issues on NorthLink’s boats, but Hyslop says this is solely a concern for Serco, the company that operates the ferries.
“Clearly, that’s a matter for NorthLink, they’re the operators of the ferry,” she said on capacity concerns.
“I pay attention to the views that are expressed and I’ve heard the challenges, but we know that in terms of capacity the freight plus will help.”
It was previously suggested that new freight vessels could be in service by 2026, but this now looks unlikely and Hyslop could not give a specific date.
In reference to the new boats she said: “The timing of that will all depend on overall Scottish Government budget and capital.
“We actually want to try and do something about the freight in the meantime, in order to help businesses.
“It’s great that there’s economic growth in Shetland and demand [for more freight], we know that in the short term there’s more freight capacity in terms of extra runs and extra services.”
Shared cabins are yet to make a return since they were suspended by Serco NorthLink during the pandemic.
There is a demand for sharing cabins however, as one Facebook group dedicated to finding spare bunks has more than 4,000 members.
“There’s challenges with cabins and shared cabins, that seems to be the concerns…NorthLink have taken legal advice about that situation and obviously people sharing voluntarily is a matter for them,” said the minister.
Whilst Hyslop may have left Shetland on the ferry – without a cabin, although she was just travelling to Orkney – she arrived on the plane.
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“I flew from Edinburgh to Sumburgh,” she said. “I was very pleased to meet the excellent staff at Sumburgh Airport and to see the investment that’s been made.”
There has been some continued frustration from some Shetlanders about the performance of Loganair, including when it comes to delays and cancellations, although chief executive Jonathan Hinkles recently said a global supply chain issue with spare parts is continuing to affect the industry.
Hyslop said: “Loganair is a private company, we know that it’s been put to sale and we look forward to working with the new owners to make sure that the interests of the wider Highlands and Islands are met.
“In terms of their operational matters, that really is a matter for them as a private company.”
A number of Loganair flights to and from Sumburgh Airport over recent days were cancelled due to technical issues.
A delayed flight from Glasgow and Sumburgh ended up being cancelled on Sunday evening – despite Shetland’s airport granting an extension to operating hours.
This meant a return trip from Sumburgh to Glasgow was also called off.
A spokesperson for Sumburgh Airport operator HIAL said the flights were cancelled “due to the level of delay” involved.
A spokesperson for Loganair said: “Loganair can confirm Sunday afternoon’s flight from Glasgow to Sumburgh was cancelled after a technical issue caused a delay of around one hour and security services at Sumburgh Airport could not be further extended to enable the aircraft to land later.
“All customers were looked after and rebooked onto alternative services. We thank our customers for their patience and understanding.”
Some early morning flights between Aberdeen and Sumburgh were also cancelled on Monday morning, whilst another Aberdeen service was called off later in the day.
A spokesperson for Loganair said these were due to a technical problem and also the weather.
On Tuesday there were also cancellations at Sumburgh to a mid-afternoon Aberdeen arrival and departure because of a technical issue.
The spokesperson said the airline has protocols in place for passengers when flights are cancelled, including organising alternative travel arrangements and overnight accommodation.
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