Coronavirus: Loganair boss seeks support for ‘essential’ regional routes

The boss of Loganair plans to request government support to help the UK’s largest regional airline maintain flights through the coronavirus pandemic.

The Scottish carrier has already been forced to ground around half its fleet of 44 aircraft.

Chief executive Jonathan Hinkles described many of the lifeline routes operated by the airline as being “essential” to remote communities in the Highlands and islands.

He said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous effect on all UK airlines.

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“The government has made it clear that it is open to requests for support from individual airlines and whilst Loganair has not yet taken up this invite, we fully expect to join other UK airlines in doing so in the coming days.”

Loganair and Eastern Airways are the only two sizeable British airlines which run mostly domestic routes following the collapse of Flybe.

Hinkles told the BBC: “We can’t just shut down. Morally, we have to fly.”

But he warned that there would come a time when the airline does not have enough income to cover its costs.

Loganair has not yet applied to HM Treasury for emergency support. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has instructed airlines to exhaust all other avenues before they make an official application.

Virgin Atlantic has already indicated that it will seek a bailout and airlines such as easyJet are expected to follow suit.

Loganair will ask the government to cover losses, for a period of time, on vital routes, such as Southampton to Glasgow which is used by people working in the defence industry.

The industry groups Airlines UK and the Airport Operators Association have called for state backing to cover air traffic control charges and payments to the Civil Aviation Authority until the end of this year.

This amounts to a “significant element” of an airline’s cost base, according to Hinkles.

Airlines also want a six-month suspension of the Air Passenger Duty tax, which brings in £3 billion a year to the Treasury.

Two-thirds of Loganair’s aircraft are leased. Its ATR-72s cost about £120,000 a month. Meanwhile, a Saab 340 is about £20,000 a month.

Every airline is now negotiating with leasers in the hope of being granted more flexibility over payments.

The impact of the pandemic on aviation had been “fast and severe” and that continued support would be needed once the height of the crisis has passed, Hinkles added.

He warned that it would be “easier to support the infrastructure which is there, rather than to try and build that infrastructure” in the future.

The longer-term problem is how quickly airlines like Loganair can recover from the crisis, whenever travel restrictions are lifted.

Predictions within the industry about when airlines will fully recover are bleak.

“When a hairdresser is allowed to reopen, there will be a queue of people who need a hair cut,” Hinkles said. “That won’t be the case with aviation.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said that the aviation sector is “important to the UK economy”.

They added: “We are willing to consider the situation of individual firms, so long as all other government schemes have been explored and all commercial options exhausted, including raising capital from existing investors.”

The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) president Joanne Dooey said it was vital the government gives emergency aid to Loganir.

“Loganair operates lifeline services for the people of Scotland, especially those in the remotest parts of the country. It should not be forgotten that, in addition to flying passengers, Loganair also transports essential medicines, mail and newspapers which would not otherwise reach those who need them.

“Loganair’s routes also provide the framework for connectivity from these areas to the rest of the world.

“As a provider of these essential services, The SPAA urges the government to consider any application which Loganair may make for emergency support during these unprecedented times.”

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