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Transport / New Loganair chief keen to restore airline’s reputation after ‘falling short’ in past

Loganair CEO Luke Farajallah. Photo: Loganair

THE NEW chief executive of Loganair has conceded that the airline’s performance in the recent past has “fallen short” – but has vowed to stabilise operations as his first priority.

Luke Farajallah was speaking on Thursday in what was his third week in the job as the replacement for Jonathan Hinkles.

A key takeaway message is that the first priority is to improve Loganair’s reliability and on-time performance amid frustration in the past from passengers regarding delays and cancellations.

Councillor Liz Peterson said at the last meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum that Loganair – the UK’s largest regional airline – still has some way to go to improve its reputation locally, and Farajallah agreed.

“In my opinion we’ve fallen short from the promise that we offer when we sell tickets, and we offer people connectivity from remote parts of the country to the mainland. We just have to deliver it,” he told Shetland News.

“We’re not like any other airline where if there’s a commercial failure you can find another airline quite easily. That’s not the way this works.

“We are very privileged and very special, and we really appreciate the fact that we have customers for whom their choice of airline is very limited, and therefore we don’t have the option of not fulfilling our promise to those customers.”

It is expected that three more aircraft will be delivered to the Scottish airline in April, May and June to complete a fleet renewal programme which has seen ATR planes replace Saabs.

When asked why things had fallen short in the past, Farajallah said the operational plan to bring in the ATR aircraft was “quite often overtaken by factors outside of the airline’s control”.

Previously factors such as global supply chain issues have been blamed.

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“The replanning process that has to take place sometimes happens a bit too late to be impactful for the passengers,” Farajallah said.

“So what we’ve tried to do, and even now, I’ve put some perhaps an overly pessimistic view into the business as to when the new aircraft will be arriving, in the hope that if they arrive early then we’ll be able to be more resilient more quickly.”

The new chief executive stressed that all staff at Loganair are “extraordinarily hard working, dedicated, passionate people” including former chief Hinkles, whose passion for the airline ran “very deep”.

Some of the measures planned in an attempt to improve reliability includes “wet leasing” an external airline to operate some Loganair flights “as and when we have a gap in our schedule”.

He said Loganair has also “agreed that we’re reducing our own flying programme somewhat” – because it looked “very stretched”.

Another element is making sure there are more standby staff such as pilots and cabin crew available.

“If you bring all those factors together in a traditional airline setting, you would expect to see the operation stabilise,” Farajallah said.

“You would expect to see more flights leaving and arriving on time, and you would expect to see particularly the crew workforce less disrupted.”

Photo: Ronnie Robertson

All of these things cost money, he noted, but “that’s an investment we need to make in order to bring the trust and confidence of the public back to Loganair where it should be”.

“Once we’ve made that investment, and we’ve taken a bit of pain to get to that point, we should be able to deliver a stable schedule,” Farajallah said.

“And also, the fleet renewal programme is coming to an end, which is probably the single biggest factor that will go in our favour.”

Another criticism has been Loganair’s communication with passengers when things do go awry.

He is keen to see passengers to continue to submit feedback, and has encouraged cabin crew to pass on people’s views to the business too.

“Our passengers are fundamental to our business, but our employees of course are the ears and eyes on the ground every day,” Farajallah said.

The new chief also responded to concern from some island NHS board chairs about reliability for patient and consultant travel.

When asked where he would like to see Loganair in a year’s time, he quipped “completely off the Shetland News”.

Farajallah suggested the key thing would be for Loganair to be something passengers do not need to worry about anymore.

“That’s where Loganair needs to be,” he said. “And we can talk about exciting initiatives – we can talk about routes, we can talk about networks, we can do great things with the communities, we can be visiting schools and encouraging and inspiring children, we can be encouraging more females into technical and engineering roles, we can be talking about the green agenda – we can be doing all those things.

“But right now nothing – nothing – is more important than everything being dropped in favour of stabilising and securing this operation and getting our basic product working routinely, silently, boring once again – that’s the focus.”

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