LOW-COST carrier Flybe is to become Scotland's biggest airline by routes after being named as Loganair's new franchise partner for its 23 Highlands and Islands services.
Flybe will replace British Airways as the public face of the network on 26 October – 18 months after the Exeter-based airline took over all BA's cross-Border regional routes.
The new routes, to the Western and Northern Isles, Wick, Campbeltown, Ireland and the Isle of Man, will take Flybe's in Scotland to 57. Passengers should see little difference to flights, with Flybe livery replacing BA's on aircraft and cabin crew uniforms.
However, they will continue to be able to book through tickets and luggage to connect with BA flights to London from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Passengers will now also be able to book through travel across Flybe's network from Scottish airports, which includes Birmingham, Manchester and Southampton, and four French destinations, including Paris. Despite being known as a "point-to-point" airline, Flybe already operates such a system with other airlines.
The five-year deal, whose value to Flybe has not been disclosed, follows a series of franchise contracts between BA and Loganair since 1994. Loganair was previously owned by British Midland, now Bmi. Loganair will pay for becoming part of the Flybe network.
Scott Grier, Loganair's chairman, said the airline had held discussions with several potential franchise partners after BA said it was withdrawing from its franchise agreements. He said the cost of Loganair having to establish a booking operation was a significant factor in deciding not to go it alone.
Flybe has been at the forefront of introducing new charges, such as for hold baggage, but these will not apply on Loganair-operated flights. Drinks and snacks will also remain free.
Grier said: "The move to become a franchise partner with Flybe provides a certain future for the company.
"The air service networks of both airlines are complementary and this deal will give our customers a greater choice of UK and European connections."
Jim French, Flybe's chief executive, said: "We will see our presence in the key Scottish market greatly enhanced and will benefit from increased passenger traffic into our existing network."
The Scottish Government's air discount scheme, which gives residents of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, Islay, Jura, Caithness and north-west Sutherland 40 per cent cheaper fares, and which is being extended to 2011, will not be affected.