AIR routes to the Scottish Highlands and Islands are some of the most stunning and serene in the world so it is somewhat ironic that over the past year there has been an underlying acrimony over whose airplanes soar over the glens, lochs, seas and mountains.

The issue looks to have been settled however as earlier this week Flybe revealed it would pull the last of the services it launched in direct competition to Loganair in a wave of publicity just five months ago, though it will still operates flights from Aberdeen to Stornoway.

It brought to an end a battle for the skies, which took off after the airlines ended a nine year franchise agreement on August 31 2017.

READ MORE: Victory is declared in airline dogfight over island flights

The next day Loganair took off from Islay, flying under its own tartan livery for the first time in 25 years, and was welcomed into Glasgow with a pipe band and water cannon salute.

The same day, Flybe embarked on a new joint venture with Eastern Airways, operating flights from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow to Sumburgh, Aberdeen to Kirkwall, Glasgow to Stornoway and Glasgow to Manchester.

“The flights offer real benefits to business and leisure passengers,” said Flybe chief executive Christine Ourmieres-Widener at the time.

HeraldScotland: Flybe chief executive Christine Ourmieres-Widener

In that she was not wrong. With competing airlines on routes which many locals had claimed were monopolised, prices inevitably came down, and there were more flights, so there was added flexibility.

When tickets became available in July – ahead of the split – prices came down as low as £50 for a flight to the Scottish Isles. A remarkable number for people used to paying up to £400 for a return. But prices on these routes are high for a reason; this is not profiteering.

As David Learmont, an aviation expert, says: “It’s never going to be easy to make money on those routes.”

Simon Erlanger, managing director of the Isle of Harris Distillers, said building a sustainable global business on the island, meant travel was a “big part” of what it does – and he called on businesses in the Hebrides to now be afforded the same air discount scheme as residents. “Travel costs are a key subject for us,” says Mr Erlanger, who commutes to the island from Glasgow each week.

“It was good news for us when Flybe and Loganair started competing with each other, because up until then we’d been paying up to £400 and the price war brought that down to £100.”

But he admits that it was “probably inevitable” that one airline would pull out as flights were not full. “My concern is that we’re back to a monopoly situation and fares will be go back to the £400 mark and my costs will rise again,” he said.

Mr Erlanger added: “What that suggests is that the only way to make travel affordable for businesses in the Hebrides is that the air discount scheme for residents is extended to businesses.”

READ MORE: Loganair set to fly into losses as route competition takes its toll

In the year to March 31 2017, while the franchise agreement was still running, Loganair carried 765,091 passengers with the average flight less than two-thirds full.

This resulted in a pre-tax profit of £3m on sales of £103m. Even allowing for profit made from contract services with the likes of Royal Mail and oil and gas charter flights, there is not a lot of room for a cut-price sale.

And it is worth remembering that unlike inter-isle services in Shetland, flights from Sumburgh to mainland UK are not part of Loganair’s contract with the Scottish Government to operate Public Service Obligation flights.

This covers routes from Glasgow to Campbeltown, Tiree and Barra; Orkney and Shetland inter-isles services; Stornoway to Benbecula; and Dundee to London.

“Airlines might on specific community routes get subsidy, but in the end they are businesses and they have to make money,” says Mr Learmont. “They are not nationalised organisations, so if a route consistently doesn’t make money you can’t stay there.”

Fast forward to December 8, and Flybe quietly pulled its operations into Sumburgh, with the last flights landing on January 8.

In response, Loganair took the step of announcing a set of ten pledges to underpin its commitment to Shetland. This involved commitments on fares and services; the tone appeared celebratory.

In its accounts, Loganair noted that during the head-to-head, fares were “unsustainably low” and for every seat occupied on flights from Sumburgh in November and December, two more seats flew empty.

And now Flybe has ended its Stornoway to Glasgow and Kirkwall to Aberdeen services.


VisitScotland’s regional partnerships director Chris Taylor says it was disappointing that Flybe had scrapped the routes after such a short space of time, but adds: “We’e pleased, however, that the airline has shown it remains committed to the Outer Hebrides with an increase in services between Aberdeen and Stornoway.”

He adds that with the islands being such an important part of Scotland’s visitor experience he hopes “Loganair will continue to be an affordable and reliable service for visitors to see these wonderful parts of the world”.

Speaking earlier this week, Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said he was grateful for the support of Northern and Western Isles residents. “The competition has been short-lived but intense,” he said.

Loganair bosses will be happy to claim the victory, but there is a pyrrhic element to it. The company is expected to make a loss in the current financial year as a result of the competition. Add in a £3m charge in setting up its own back-end systems, and it will be a costly year for the Glasgow airline.


If Loganair’s claim that it sold more than seven out of every ten occupied seats on the competing routes is accurate, Flybe could be nursing a far greater loss on these services than its rival.

Loganair chairman David Harrison was at a loss as to why Flybe had launched competing routes in the first place, saying it was “hard to know” why its once ally set up shop next door.

“Our view would have been that it would never have worked,” he said. It would seem that Mr Harrison is correct.