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There is travel consternation in the Isles again today (Fri, March 29) as there are now no inter-island flights until Friday, April 12.

When the last Loganair inter-island flight took off yesterday afternoon from Stornoway, it emerged that new operator Hebridean Air Services doesn’t intend to get their Stornoway-Benbecula air links off the ground for two weeks.

At the time of writing, their booking system was still not taking bookings for the three flights they will operate on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. However, the booking system is expected to be updated over the weekend.

The luggage limit for their other services in the Highlands is 10 kg.

Of more concern for passengers, especially Southern Isles residents attending hospital appointments in Stornoway, is the eight-seater Britten Norman Islander aircraft that will operate the service.

According to Hebridean Air Services, the aircraft operated on these routes “may impact on our ability to carry passengers with reduced mobility.”

Their website says:  “There is no mechanical aid available or suitable for assisting passengers to board/exit this aircraft type. The door sill height is 60cm off the ground. We supply a small step-up to assist those passengers that need it.”

The airline goes on to say, “We would suggest that persons of reduced mobility travel with a companion who can assist with boarding or exiting if required. In order to ensure the safety of all passengers on board, it is a requirement of the airline that all passengers must be able to board/exit the aircraft without the need for staff support.”

Loganair’s 16:25 flight yesterday was the final flight as the airline, the long-time operator of the inter-island route, lost the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar contract. Over the years, services were pared down from five to three days a week.

The Britten Norman Islander aircraft being flown on the route by Hebridean Air Services is significantly smaller than Loganair’s aircraft but cheaper to run. This fact has not been lost on passengers, who feel a smaller aircraft on the route is a retrograde step.

However, Britten Norman Islanders have a long track record in Public Service Obligation (PSO) contracts on routes with relatively low passenger numbers.
Established in 1995, Hebridean Air Services was acquired by Airtask in 2016. It also operates Argyll and Bute Council contracts for scheduled flights to Coll, Tiree, and Colonsay.

Meanwhile, Airtask Group landed Shetland Council’s contract for inter-island services using Britten Norman Islander aircraft.

Airtask Group has a 10-strong fleet of aircraft that are used in various roles, including atmospheric research, fishery protection patrol for the Scottish Government, and missile firing range clearance in the South Uist rocket range airspace.

Hebridean Air Services traces its history back to 1995 when it was first established. By 2008, it was owned by Inverness-based Highland Airways – which had the inter-island air contract at that point – and was then based at Cumbernauld Airport.

Two years later, following the failure of its parent company, it was rebranded as Hebridean Air Services and returned to private ownership.

In 2016, Hebridean Air Services was sold to Airtask Group. Though primarily based at Oban Airport, it offers charter services to over 40 airports and airfields within Scotland.