Loganair is stepping up flights to Shetland following rival Flybe’s withdrawal from routes from Sumburgh airport this week due to “disappointing” passenger numbers.
The expansion by Loganair follows former franchise partner Flybe ending service on Monday after just four months.
Flybe Interim chief commercial officer Ronnie Matheson said: “After looking at all factors, having driven down prices on the three Shetland routes, passenger numbers have been disappointing.
“We promised to evaluate the situation, which is what we have now done. The outcome, with sincerest regret, is that rather than continue to persevere, we withdraw from the route sooner rather than later.”
The Flybe withdrawal triggered a ten-point set of ‘Pledges for Shetland’ from rival Loganair to underpin its commitment to the islands’ external air services.
The Scottish regional carrier, which has served the isles for more than 50 years, will offer 158 flights a week to and from Sumburgh this summer – a 14% increase from 2017.
Sumburgh-Edinburgh flights will go up from three to four each weekday from March 26.
The summer timetable will include a new choice of morning departures from Sumburgh to Edinburgh at 7.40am and 9.25am each weekday, and new evening departures from Edinburgh to Sumburgh at 4.40pm and 6.10pm.
The Edinburgh timetable will also offer a day return to Lerwick for travellers starting their journey in the Scottish capital.
Current flight times allow for less than two hours in Lerwick. A new 7.25am flight north from Edinburgh and a later flight south at 6.50pm will provide a working day capability in Shetland for the first time.
Larger 50-seat Saab 2000 aircraft will fly one of the Saturday Sumburgh-Edinburgh and Edinburgh-Sumburgh services during the summer.
A second summer Saturday flight from Glasgow will use a 50-seat Saab 2000 and an existing Sunday service will also be flown by the larger aircraft.
Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles said: “Since Flybe’s announcement last month, we’ve listened and then worked hard to produce a meaningful response which we trust will provide strong reassurance to the Shetland community about future fares and seat availability.
“During the recent head-to-head, fares were at unsustainably low levels and for every seat occupied on flights from Sumburgh in November and December, two more seats flew empty.
“It meant that a huge number of seats remained on sale at the very lowest fares, often right up to the day of travel.
“Several independent commentators agreed with our view from the outset that this wasn’t going to be sustainable and so it’s proven to be.”
“That said, we recognise that there will be questions in Shetland as to whether prices will now go back to where they were before, and some suggestions that prices may be higher than they were before. By making our new pledges, we’re aiming to ensure that lower fares remain available on our flights for longer.
“At the same time, we operate all of our services to and from Shetland with no direct subsidy – unlike all of Shetland’s other external and internal transport links – and so flights have to be economically viable in their own right. Loganair’s pledges today are designed to balance that imperative with the needs of the community in Shetland and beyond.
“We look forward to continuing our 50-year record of service in Shetland and to continue to listen, react and respond to the needs of the isles.”
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