The boss of Loganair, now the UK’s largest regional airline, has said his firm plans to ask for government help to get through the coronavirus pandemic.
After Flybe’s collapse, Loganair is one of only two sizeable British airlines which run mostly domestic routes.
Jonathan Hinkles told the BBC that any airline saying it could survive without government help “would probably be lying”.
Mr Hinkles warned that the connectivity of remote Scottish islands and rural communities across the UK “cannot be maintained without air services”, arguing that government support for his airline is “essential”.
Responding to the concerns raised by Loganair over the future of the airline industry as a consequence of the impacts of coronavirus, and calls for financial support for airlines, Councillor Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “Clearly this is a matter of deep concern and we would strongly support the call for assistance to what is a lifeline service for the Islands.
"As well as supporting the businesses, economy and social connectivity of the islands, Loganair services provide vital medical and other supplies. We will be relaying our concerns to Government”.
Loganair is still running a higher proportion of its flights than other airlines because some travel to the most remote parts of the UK is considered essential. The airline is still ferrying people, mail and essential goods, such as pharmaceutical products, out to about 15 island airports.
Nevertheless, the Scottish carrier has had to ground half of its fleet and dramatically slash its flying schedule. This has put its entire operation in jeopardy. “We can’t just shut down”, Mr Hinkles told the BBC. “Morally, we have to fly.”
However, without government intervention, Jonathan Hinkles warned that there would come a time when the airline simply doesn’t 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.
Aside from the immediate problem of keeping the operation going, which Mr Hinkles believes is “in the national interest”, the longer-term problem is how quickly airlines like his can recover from the crisis – whenever travel restrictions are lifted. He says that predictions within the industry about when airlines will fully recover are bleak.
The industry group Airlines UK and the Airport Operators Association have asked the government to cover air traffic control charges and payments to the Civil Aviation Authority until the end of this year. Mr Hinkles says this amounts to a “significant element” of an airline’s cost base.
Airlines also want a six-month suspension of the Air Passenger Duty, which brings in £3bn every year to the Treasury.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said that the aviation sector is “important to the UK economy”. “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.”