Inter-islands air services are to be maintained by Loganair for a further four years with the award of a new Public Service Obligation (PSO) contract by Orkney Islands Council.

The Scottish regional carrier bases two Britten-Norman Islander aircraft at Kirkwall to fly the routes, carrying around 20,000 passengers a year. Inter-island flights became bookable online for the first time in 2019.

The airline, which pioneered the services in conjunction with the then Orkney Islands Shipping Company in 1967, has continually maintained the lifeline air links connecting the islands of North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Westray, Sanday, Stronsay and Eday with Kirkwall.

Services include the world’s shortest scheduled flight – two minutes between Westray and Papa Westray.

The new contract, won following a competitive tender process, will run from  April 1, securing the employment of 10 pilots, engineers and ground staff dedicated to the services at Loganair’s Kirkwall base.

Loganair has recruited and trained engineers locally to take over from retiring long-serving members of its team and is committed to continuing this policy in Orkney wherever it possibly can.

The airline “fully expects” to convert aircraft to use low-carbon propulsion to replace the same type of conventional piston engine which has powered the services for more than 50 years.

It will be supporting flight trials of two separate programmes – hydrogen-powered and electrically-powered aircraft – at its base in the Orkney Islands in the first half of 2021.

Loganair is the only UK regional airline invited to participate in the government’s Jet Zero Council initiatives to de-carbonise future air travel.

Chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “The four-year contract award provides us with certainty on which to plan for the future – whether that be the transition to new low or zero-carbon technology or in the recruitment and training of staff in Orkney to work on the Inter-Isles operation.

“The North Isles services are a key part of Loganair’s DNA, and despite our expansion as an airline, we remain today as committed as ever to serving the communities of Orkney.”

Orkney councillor Graham Sinclair said: “Communities in our North Isles have been served by Loganair for more than half a century and now, following a competitive tendering process, the airline has been awarded the four-year contract once again.

“In these ever-challenging times with uncertainty around every corner, I am sure the continuity of service will be welcomed by residents.

“I also welcome Loganair’s future plans which include conversion to use of low-carbon propulsion which can only but assist with our attempts to reduce our carbon footprint.”