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A Britten Norman Islander of Hebridean Air Services pictured in 2016 by Jonathan Winton

A company called Hebridean Air Services has won the contract to operate the Benbecula to Stornoway Air Service.

This follows a tender process conducted by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

The agreement with Hebridean Air Services is intended to see the service return to three days of operation per week with passengers able to book return flights on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday.

At present, there are two flights a week operated on Tuesdays and Thursdays by Loganair.

Under the new contract, passengers will travel onboard Hebridean Air Service’s 8-passenger Britten Norman Islander aircraft. 

These are far smaller than the 48-seat ATR-500 aircraft operated by Loganair. 

The CnES official statement says: "While considerably smaller than the aircraft currently provided, it suits the operational passenger loads better and makes the routes viable due to the decreased operating costs. 

"The aircraft is a tried and trusted utility aircraft used throughout the world on a number of dedicated Public Service Obligation (PSO) contracts where passenger numbers are lower due to smaller island populations."

Hebridean Air Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Airtask Group Limited, will run the service alongside its PSO based at Oban and another in Shetland, all served by the Britten Norman Islander. 

According to Wikipedia, Hebridean Air Services is the only airline to operate a service between Oban airport and those on Islay, Coll, Tiree and Colonsay on routes subsidised by Argyll and Bute Council and its fleet consists of one aircraft. Last autumn, the company was reported to be closing down its services and it seems that Hebridean Air Services recently became a subsidiary of Directflight Limited.  Trading as Airtask Group, this was established in 1983. They currently operate ten aircraft, ranging from a DA42 to the BAE 146-301 Atmospheric Research Aircraft and and have 14 staff at their Cranfield Airport headquarters, and employ a further 43 based around the UK.

The group, based in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, providing aerial surveillance flights to a number of government agencies, including a dedicated service on behalf of the Scottish government, as well as operating the UK Atmospheric Research Aircraft on behalf of UKRI.  

In June 2006 Airtask Group was awarded a PSO contract for the provision of an inter-island scheduled air service in Shetland. Operated on behalf of the Shetland Islands Council and based at Tingwall airport near Lerwick, it uses 2 Britten Norman Islander aircraft on routes to the islands of Fair Isle and Foula. The contract was re-awarded to Directflight in 2009 and again in 2013. 

Tickets for the Benbecula-Stornoway route will soon be made available through the Hebridean Air Services website at Hebridean Air Services Ltd (bookhebridean.co.uk). The website is currently being updated to include the new route details and schedules, CnES says, and this will go live soon, they add. Certainly tonight (Monday March 11) the website was not indicating any flights of its existing services.  

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is meeting with representatives from Hebridean Air Services in Stornoway this week in anticipation of the commencement of the contract as soon as feasible after 1 April.  There are no flights showing on Loganair's schedule in April. 

Following this meeting the Comhairle says it will work closely with Hebridean Air Services to communicate publicly any potential service disruption during the transitionary period.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, said: “The news that the service between Benbecula and Stornoway will continue to operate is welcome. The service is important to our communities particularly for the transportation of NHS patients. The fact that this is a four-year contract takes away the annual worry that this much-needed service will be discontinued.”

Julie Simper, Managing Director of Hebridean Air Services, said: “Naturally we are delighted to be awarded the contract.  Having operated two PSO services for some time we understand the criticality of the routes to be served and understand that the needs of the travellers must be the highest priority.  We are currently concentrating our efforts on getting everything in place in order to commence a reliable service to fulfil the routes as soon as feasibly practicable.”