Alastair Dalton: Loganair to set a new course into the unknown

Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles. Picture: Nick Ponty

Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles. Picture: Nick Ponty

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For “Scotland’s Airline”, it could be a bright future - or its biggest test.

Loganair will part company with Flybe next August and fly under its own colours for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

The bust-up comes as Loganair appears to have turned round its performance after last year’s woeful levels of passenger disruption caused by unreliable aircraft.

But going it alone also poses a major challenge, since the airline operates small aircraft over largely “thin” demand routes, and will now have to run the whole show itself.

The change means Loganair needs to set up its own passenger booking system - a cost which deterred it from flying solo before.

The lack of a formal tie-up with a larger airline that has wider route connections for onward travel could also potentially hit revenue.

However, being freed from the restrictions of a franchise agreement could provide a huge opportunity, as parent firm Airline Investments put it, for Loganair to “spread its wings once again”.

Two days after the announcement, Loganair revealed its biggest ever flight schedule for next summer, which includes new services to Bergen and the Faroe Islands.

It already serves ten airports across the Highlands and Islands, as well as Newcastle, Leeds-Bradford, Manchester, Norwich, Guernsey and Dublin.

When Loganair signed up with Flybe eight years ago, after 14 years with British Airways, it appeared to be a puzzling match.

The ebullient Jim French, Flybe’s then chief executive, seemed an unlikely bedfellow with Loganair’s more staid chairman Scott Grier.

I remember sensing a hint of uneasiness between them as they sat together to discuss the deal at Loganair’s old offices at Glasgow Airport.

It personified the friction between low-cost Flybe - which introduced baggage charges even before Ryanair - and full-service Loganair, which has no such fees and provided free drinks and snacks.

Both airlines are now in new hands, but their different approaches appear to have been the deal’s undoing.

Flybe, which said the franchise would be “terminated”, attributed it to a “failure to agree future operational standards and commercial arrangements”.

The key to Loganair’s solo fortunes is likely to be managing director Jonathan Hinkles, who returned to the airline in June after four years at Virgin Atlantic.

He’s busy changing a somewhat dysfunctional-sounding culture at Loganair, such as organising breakfasts to provide staff with an opportunity to talk to each other, and abolishing the locked door between the training centre and the rest of the offices. Staff going beyond the call of duty will also be honoured at an inaugural awards dinner next month.

In marked contrast to last year’s performance doldrums, flights this October suffered just one fifth of the cancellations and major disruption of 12 months ago.

Punctuality reached a near record 89 per cent of flights arriving within 15 minutes - the standard industry measure - compared to 75 per cent a year ago, and nearly four in five flights are bang on time.

However, aviation is notorious for unexpected operational as well as meteorological turbulence, and it remains to be seen whether Loganair’s future flightpath will be smooth.

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