In response to Jessie MacNeil’s letter (“Council failing on air services,” 5 March
2017), I wish to make a number of points.
Firstly, the topic of the inter-isles air service schedules was debated in the CNES
Transportation Committee last Wednesday, alongside the discussion around newspapers.
Neither were agenda items, but were covered as part of a presentation that I gave,
and on which discussion then took place. It is factually inaccurate to suggest otherwise.
Letter: Loganair responds to flight timetable comments
8 March 2017
Today’s inter-isles Stornoway/Benbecula timetable brings with it a number of significant
limitations. Firstly, it provides less than three hours’ usable time in Stornoway
for those making a day return from Benbecula and consequently, the level of usage
reflects this major impairment in the timings. Secondly, the method of delivery of
the service requires those bound from Stornoway to Inverness and Edinburgh each weekday
morning to share an aircraft, which provides insufficient capacity to meet demand
from Stornoway to these two destinations each weekday. Thirdly, it results in a superfluous
flight operating every day between Inverness and Edinburgh.
The new timetable from 27 March resolves all three of these issues and enables us
to continue to bid for the service within the financial parameters laid out by CNES.
As part of the PSO contract, Loganair is fully responsible for meeting its revenue
projections and so the risk of flying with empty seats rests entirely with us – there
is no recourse to the Comhairle if we fail to meet our projected revenue. Against
that background, I trust it is apparent that it is in Loganair’s interests to design
a timetable which is usable by the maximum number of potential travellers, and that
is exactly what I believe we have done.
The air service for which CNES tenders is that between Stornoway and Benbecula. It
does not mandate onward connectivity to Inverness, since the Stornoway/Inverness
service to which the Benbecula flights link is provided by Loganair at its own commercial
risk. We will be maintaining a through-plane service between Benbecula and Inverness
and this will now be on five days per week in line with the recent and welcome CNES
decision to restore five-day-a-week service on the inter-isles route.
The level of usage of the Benbecula-Stornoway flight by residents of Barra has been
particularly low – 1.2% of all customers on the route. Analysing the patterns of
usage makes it very clear that travellers from Barra may well be getting in their
cars to drive to Benbecula; yet instead of parking at Benbecula Airport and catching
the flight (as is suggested), they are largely remaining in their cars until they
reach Stornoway. This has long been the case. In my view, it would be illogical and
wholly wrong to deprive those in Benbecula of a usable day return air connection
facility to Stornoway to protect a limited connection for other community residents
that is scarcely used. If services are not used, they cannot be sustained.
At the same time, the Glasgow-Barra air service is being enhanced this year with
the addition of further flights over the peak summer season, supported by the Scottish
Government. This continuing improvement assures connectivity for Barra on the link
that the residents of Barra do use. We have worked closely with the Scottish Government
to make this development happen and I’m pleased to have played a part in that, and
that these efforts have come to fruition.
With developments also planned on Loganair’s other routes to Stornoway and Benbecula,
we’re delivering the highest ever level of service to the Western Isles this summer,
and very much look forward to building on these developments in the future.