I note with interest and concern the pending service FlyBE/EA are about to begin,
in competition to Loganair on the Stornoway to Glasgow airlink route.
As someone who has used both airlines extensively over the last few years, and someone
who has reviewed in depth Eastern Airways airlink service between Stornoway and Aberdeen,
there are a few pertinent points that I would like to take the opportunity to highlight.
Eastern Airways commenced flying between Stornoway and Aberdeen back in 2005. They
initially promised to further develop the route to two flights a day. They kicked
the service off using an aircraft that would otherwise have been lying idle in Aberdeen
in between it flying down the east coast of England. No route development was forthcoming.
Various attempts have been made through the years, involving MP, MSP (past and present),
CnES, HiE, HITRANS but all have come to nothing - after 12 years EA are still operating
the same timetable. An ineffective, middle of the day service that is of little use
The island economy heavily depends on the oil and gas sector, islanders have somehow
managed to persevere despite EA services, most certainly not because of it. They
did briefly flirt with a revised timetable in 2016, this was only in put in place
as a reaction to the downturn in the oil industry - they didn't wait long to revert
back to the current poor timetable.
One thing is clear, the Stornoway route plays second fiddle to EA's east coast national
routes. It's not stopped them developing other routes (Southampton, Stavanger, etc)
down through the years and leave the Stornoway route to wither.
EA have pulled yet another rabbit out of the hat to source a new plane to service
the Stornoway - Glasgow route. I'm stunned by that. When they want to do something
they can do it.
What is clear to me is that EA are a ruthless company who have demonstrated that
they do not have the island passengers best interests at heart. Indeed FlyBE themselves,
outside of the Loganair network, are a real 'dollar & dime' company. Putting those
two companies together causes me nothing but concern for the longer term.
They are cherry picking the Loganair routes, despite what they say. Where's the rival
flights for Inverness and Edinburgh? As for low prices for the long term - how could
anyone possibly believe them? They have one cynical objective - to put Loganair out
of the game.
Transportation by sea and air is absolutely critical to our islands and we cannot
allow that to be compromised in anyway, especially chasing some short term price
war between airlines. Businesses depend on this, peoples jobs depend on this.
Competition should be a good thing, but in this case I'm worried. Calmac had to recently
fight to show the Scottish Government they were the best company to operate 28 ferry
routes. It was good for Calmac to go through that exercise to keep them competitive
and on their toes. I understand there are some EU related regulations that prevent
a similar model being developed in the air. Perhaps in light of Brexit this is something
that could be revisited.
Loganair took the brunt of the public’s ire over reliability issues during the last
few years and it was absolutely right that they did. However, EA came out of that
almost unscathed. I have honestly spent more time sitting in Stornoway and Aberdeen
airport as a result of EA than I have in all my years waiting for Loganair flights.
One time when a late flight was cancelled due to fog in Inverness Loganair quickly
and efficiently ensured all their passengers were looked after by organising hotels
for them all, showing exemplary customer care.
Contrast that to the way EA deal with any offshore passengers needing to change their
flights due to a helicopter being late - EA take a 'tough luck' approach. Show your
Vantage card to Loganair and they will always do their best to accommodate you.
As I said earlier, competition should be a good thing but in this case I'm thinking
more 'be careful what you wish for' when booking FlyBE/EA.