Torrential rain and driving wind failed to deter people from turning out last night (Wednesday August 16th) for a major presentation by top Flybe management about their new service from Stornoway from September 1.

This is part of a new series of Scottish services operated by and for Flybe, the UK’s largest regional airline, and will be followed by a franchise deal with Eastern Airlines that sees Eastern’s network operating under Flybe’s colours across the UK and abroad.

Mathew Herzberg, head of Commercial for Eastern Airways , explained that the airline had been operating into Stornoway on the Aberdeen route for 11 years, and operated more than 100 flights a day across the UK. The new services to Glasgow – and the existing service to Aberdeen – would all benefit from seamless connections through to other services on the Flybe network.

The meeting – held in Stornoway Town Hall – heard Vincent Hodder, the chief revenue officer of Flybe explain that this would be the first time that Flybe had directly controlled flights into Stornoway – and other new Scottish destinations such as Sumburgh and Kirkwall. Previous passenger experiences all related to their previous franchisee and future competitor, Loganair.  He said the meeting was as much about feedback from would-be passengers as it was about explaining the airline’s plans.

The new service will involve three flights every weekday between Glasgow and Stornoway – with one return flight on Saturdays and Sundays. The aircraft in use will be a Jetstream 41, twin-engine, turboprop plane with 29 seats and limited access for less able passengers.

Mr Hodder said that a larger Embraer jet aircraft would be used on the daily return routes to Sumburgh but it was felt that the Stornoway-Glasgow route was better served by frequent flights of a smaller plane.

He explained that his worldwide career in the airline industry included working in his home country Australia, the US and Mexico, El Salvador, Korea, and Japan. He said that Flybe was born as Jersey European on Jersey in 1979, had been based at Exeter Airport since 1985, and was used to serving islands. Its aims involved connecting regional communities and businesses. Flybe is the largest regional airline in Europe operating 226 routes to 14 different countries. The company employs around 2,000 people and as a public company, it has to publish details of its finances.

The question of compassionate fares was raised by the audience – where people had to take expensive last-minute flights because, for instance, the failing health of family members. Mr Hodder said they were looking at reducing the paperwork involved to make this process easier.

Concerns about predatory pricing were also raised by members of the audience but Mr Hodder said the prices being charged by Flybe were in line with the fares elsewhere in its network and were based on being sustainable in the long-term. Fares must not be so high that they deter travellers and visitors. “We deliver low fares that stimulate additional travel. Introducing low fares is a critical factor in our decision to enter these markets.” He pointed out that one-third of all their passengers were travelling to and from Scotland.

The new partnership with Eastern Airways gave Flybe a bigger range of aircraft sizes and types from the Jetstream 41 with 29 seats up to the Embraer 195 with 118 seats, said Mr Hodder (pictured above).

He explained that a series of Flybe codeshare and interline deals with airlines across the world meant that Stornoway would soon be cropping up on route-planning across the world – this would be a great boost to connectivity for Stornoway. It would allow single-ticket bookings to and from a far bigger range of destinations.

He pointed out that the existing Eastern Airways service to Aberdeen would become part of the Flybe offering from later this year, giving a series of other onward booking opportunities from the Aberdeen as a hub airport.

Mr Hodder said he had joined Flybe 18 months ago at the time when concerns about high prices and unreliable services on the Loganair franchise routes were at their height. “This caused us to question how we were actually serving these markets.” Flybe had told Loganair of its concerns about the poor performance and its effect on customers. Looking at the services then, he became concerned about the level of fares on the Loganair routes. On its own services, Flybe aimed to cover the costs of running its routes by increasing the number of people flying; other carriers focused on the premium end of the market. Flybe believed there were a lot of people living locally who chose not to travel by air because of the prices at present.