The chief executive of Glasgow-based airline Loganair has promised to continue serving isolated Scottish Highland and island communities that depend on it, despite being put up for sale.
Jonathan Hinkles was speaking after the announcement in October by owners Stephen and Peter Bond that they wanted to dispose of Loganair as they moved into retirement.
The Bond brothers are aviation entrepreneurs, having inherited the Bond Helicopters business founded by their father, which they sold in 2011. Stephen Bond is 72 and Peter 61.
Loganair provides vital services such as supplying perishable food weekly to North Ronaldsay in the Orkneys during a winter break in the island’s ferry service. It carries children from some islands to school.
Hinkles said he had told officials from the Scottish and Isle of Man governments and officials from local councils in other areas, including the Western Isles and Shetland, that he expected any sale to have no effect on the airline’s commitment to their areas.
“I have told all the actors within government . . . there have been five different sets of owners of Loganair and we’re still here,” Hinkles said in a Financial Times interview. “You can fully expect us to still be here despite a sixth exchange of ownership.”
Hinkles added that he had been asked after one consultation session what would happen if the airline went to a new buyer that had no interest in serving the remote communities that Loganair currently serves.
He replied that he could see no reason for an owner uninterested in those markets to buy the airline.
“My question was, ‘Why would you buy it?’” Hinkles said.
As well as carrying passengers and some freight around the Scottish Highlands and islands, Loganair, founded in 1962, carries post for Royal Mail around the Western Isles on a dedicated fleet of four freighter turboprop aircraft.
About 5 per cent of the company’s income comes from governments and local authorities under Public Service Obligation agreements more commonly used to secure rural bus services.
The airline also runs a substantial charter business, serving the North Sea oil and gas industry and transporting some professional football teams to away matches, as well as operating some purely commercial routes.
The airline says it is the UK’s third-largest domestic airline by passenger numbers after British Airways and easyJet.
After two years of losses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the company announced pre-tax profits for the year to March 31 of £4.98mn on £161mn turnover.
Hinkles acknowledged the airline’s vital role in the Scottish islands. Loganair has been flying within the Orkney Islands since 1967 and to Tiree in the Hebrides since 1974.
“They’re longstanding parts of what we do and clearly the communities in those places are hugely dependent on the air services that we provide,” Hinkles said. “That’s an obligation that we take as seriously today as when we started those services.”
Loganair’s services are particularly critical at present because of the reliability problems plaguing services by Caledonian MacBrayne, the state-owned ferry operator serving the Western Isles.
Hinkles said the airline took “no pleasure” in the continuing issues facing CalMac.
“Ferry and air services can coexist as they have for many years and there’s a need for both,” he said.
Hinkles added that he was not involved in the sale process, which he expected to take several more months and is being organised by Arrowpoint Advisory. He was instead focusing on ensuring the airline continued operating well.
There have been no public expressions of interest in buying the airline.
“We have to be very, very clear-eyed that we’ve got to have an airline that’s trading well and is very well run,” Hinkles said. “I have to be confident that someone will buy it.”