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Transport / Loganair chief adds to widespread concern over increased air traffic control charges

Sumburgh Airport. Photo: HIAL

THE CHIEF executive of Loganair has called increased charges for air traffic control services in the UK “airway robbery”.

Johnathan Hinkles was speaking after it was announced that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has given National Air Traffic Services (NATS) the go-ahead to increase charges for air operators.

The CAA said the average charge for the period 2023 to 2027 inclusive is forecast to change by 26 per cent compared with 2022.

In nominal terms, the average charge is forecast to increase £47 in 2022 to £64 in 2023 to 2027 inclusive.

The news has not been met well across the aviation sector, particularly after there was widespread air traffic control disruption in August.

There are warnings that air fares may have to increase as a result.

Writing on LinkedIn, Hinkles conceded that the charge increase could force Loganair – which mainly operates flights across the UK – to review some of its unprofitable regional routes which have not recovered from the pandemic.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles. Photo: Shetland News

He said for an average Edinburgh-Shetland flight two years ago around £4 of the fare accounted for the cost of air traffic control services, but next year that will be about £8.

The airline chief said flights are charged by distance, so longer routes are set to see more of an impact.

He also said there has already been an increase in NATS air traffic control charges earlier this year.

“The expectation was that charges for 2024 would go back to normalised levels, plus inflation,” Hinkles wrote.

“Unfortunately, something’s gone badly wrong. Either the inflation index for Venezuela has been used by mistake, or NATS has pulled the wool over the regulator’s eyes.”

“This decision is bad news for customers and communities; bad news for the economy – as airfare increases contribute to UK inflation; bad news for the environment.”

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Using the example of a Glasgow to Faro flight, Hinkles said the increased charges could see planes leaving UK airspace as soon as they can as the operator looks to fly in cheaper airspace in other countries.

“Airlines avoiding UK airspace also means NATS brings in less income, increasing the burden for those left behind who have no alternative,” he said.

Hinkles said that Loganair cannot “readily nip through cheaper airspace on a flight from Inverness to Birmingham”.

“We feel the impact of the NATS charges far more on long domestic routes than on shorter routes. And in case you missed it, folk keep talking about banning short domestic routes to cut emissions from air travel.

“NATS seems hell bent on pricing the long ones out of the air too.

“We held out on some unprofitable regional routes which haven’t recovered from the pandemic in the hope of improvement. The CAA and NATS have today removed one of the few causes for hope.

“We need to carefully consider our next steps, and decide what we now have to do. At its core, this is a really bad decision with consequences for customers, the economy and our environment. Airway robbery indeed.”

The CAA’s chief economist Andrew Walker said the decision will offer the “resources and investment required” for NATS to provide a “resilient, high-quality service for passengers and modernise its services, while recovering costs from the pandemic”.

He added: “Implementing targets around performance, efficiency and environmental impact will help deliver an improved airspace system that will benefit everyone.”

A spokesperson for the NATS said: “We are studying the CAA’s final decision regarding the five-year NR23 regulatory period which began in January this year.”

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