Gazette Letters 7.1.16

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NO BONUSES

With regret, I must return your readers to the issue of Loganair /Flybe and its disgraceful treatment of island communities.

I am now sitting in Edinburgh airport with time on my hands following the announcement of a three hour delay to my flight back to Stornoway.

I spent the first five minutes of this time rereading the triumphant profit announcement made by Loganair bosses earlier today.

Earlier this week, whilst waiting in the lounge at Stornoway airport for a flight delayed by two hours, I read that airfares for islanders are now being subsidised to the extent of 50% per ticket.

I think it is now time that Loganair informed island communities and its customers if any bonuses are being paid to senior management staff on the basis of its profit performance (as announced) and if those staff are planning on accepting any bonuses paid.

As a ticket buyer in a market monopoly situation, and as a tax payer, I feel that whilst so much misery and expense has been handed to its customers, Loganair should not pay a single penny in bonuses to senior staff, and the company has a moral duty of transparency on this issue to us all who have and are suffering at its hands.

Peter Urpeth

Back, Isle of Lewis

TIME FOR AIR CHANGE

With the ongoing saga of a disjointed airservice to the Highlands and islands and a lot of handwringing by politicians of all colours surely those involved in Our Islands Our Future should be looking at running our own airservice.

All the Island councils, Highland Council and the Health Boards should come together to form one Highlands and Islands airline.

Two flights a day from Glasgow and Edinburgh to each destination would be a reasonable and viable option if operated with slightly bigger aircraft.

The service would have to be subsidised but would be operated as a public service route not for profit but retaining a reserve for capital expenditure.

The tourist trade in future years would benefit by introducing reasonable rates from Edinburgh and Glasgow to all areas.

Think of the economic growth to tourism if a £390 fare was reduced to £120, also the growth in passenger numbers, ensuring economies of scale The Health Boards should be able to save large amounts of money by timetabling appointments at hospitals to link up with their flight timetable.

We all know people over the last two years who through planes going “technical” have missed appointments onward flights and other arrangements.

I have a great deal of regard for the pilots who are operating the present service in very inclement weather.

Also the ground staff who have to deal with the fallout of all these problems but the present system is not fit for purpose and we should be creating our own service.

Norman Macdonald

Stornoway

FLYING NOT WHAT IT WAS

With the raising of the Air Discount Scheme rate to 50%, it might be anticipated that islanders would be pleased at some little lowering of air fares, however the climate in which this small advance takes place is not good.

For years now the Comhairle has highlighted the need for an acceptable air service to and from the islands which is safe and affordable, regrettably there is increasing concern over the safety of Flybe/Loganair aircraft with almost daily stories of the inadequacy of the aircraft.

I remember as a student travelling back and fore to Inverness en route to Aberdeen, in wide-bodied, comfortable aircraft with plenty of room for cabin baggage, no restriction on hold baggage, adequate leg room, a full complement of passengers, cabin service down the central aisle and the plane carried cargo too! It is obvious that the present service has deteriorated significantly since then.

There is no doubt but that the present aircraft need to be replaced- and quickly! Yet Flybe/Loganair appear to be reluctant to act on this.

Given that the Transport Minister and the First Minister have joined the chorus of concern, there is a need for urgent action. Now is the time for the Scottish Government to intervene and assist in the purchase of suitable safe aircraft for the Scottish Islands routes.

These aircraft should be the modern version of the aircraft I flew on so many years ago, with a good safety record, comfort for passengers (not packed like herring in a barrel), modern baggage allowances (to reflect the fact that many passengers will have connecting flights to Europe and beyond).

Reintroduce a sensible cargo policy - perhaps we might again have our papers in the morning- remove the restriction on business travel and make flying to and from the Scottish Islands the pleasure it once was.

I am in no doubt that such improvements, coupled with a more realistic fare structure, will result in more customers, more satisfied customers, using the services more regularly.

Angus McCormack

Comhairle Offices,

Stornoway

DECEMBEARD

We would like to thank all the local men who took part in Beating Bowel Cancer’s Decembeard fundraising campaign by going grizzly last month.

Decembeard, which asks men to ditch their razors and grow a beard throughout the month of December, is a fun way for individuals or teams to raise funds and help to increase awareness of the disease.

It’s simple to take part in and thousands signed up for it again last month. We’d like to thank every one of them for their support.

The many thousands of pounds they have raised in sponsorship will help the charity to support bowel cancer patients and their families and to raise awareness of the disease, its symptoms and the need for early diagnosis.

As well as raising funds for the charity, the campaign can help to break down the stigma of talking about bowel cancer, which is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer.

Over a hundred people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every day, yet over 90% of cases can be treated successfully if caught early. So it’s vital that people become more aware of the symptoms so they can act quickly.

If anyone has any queries or concerns about bowel cancer, there’s lots of information and advice on our website or they can call our Nurse Helpline on 020 8973 0011.

Mark Flannagan,

CEO Beating Bowel Cancer

www.beatingbowelcancer.org

FERRY ISSUES

The North Harris Community Council wish to express great dissatisfaction with the shoddy treatment to residents of the Western Isles returning back to the Islands after the New Year break by Caledonian MacBrayne.

My wife and I happened to be part of the many unfortunate travellers to be delayed 24 hours and subsequently conveyed to Tarbert on the MV Isle of Arran.

We were informed as we approached Portree on Sunday 3rd January that the 15.45 ferry on that day was cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.

According to the shipping forecast the wind speed was 30mph possible gusting to 40mph which, in our 37 years of travel, was not considered sufficiently bad to merit cancellation on this journey so we were somewhat troubled by this decision.

To compound this, we were part of a party of 18 heading back to Harris, a party which included an 8 month old infant as well as people in their 70’s. Because of the vulnerable age-groups, 16 of the group headed for Ullapool to catch the 18.30 to Stornoway and were surprised to find that the crossing was fairly reasonable and thus more surprised that the crossing to Tarbert – a much more sheltered route - should have been cancelled.

Many knowledgeable seafarers on board the delayed Isle of Arran made the point that, in their opinion, the cancellation had nothing to do with the weather and more to do with the “confidence“ of this vessel on this route.

The fact that the weather did not change significantly on the Monday compared to Sunday yet it sailed and was a fairly comfortable crossing seems to reinforce this point.

This confidence issue was also reinforced when we saw the MV Isle of Arran taking about 40 minutes to dock in Tarbert as the car drivers and passengers were left waiting on the car deck in freezing conditions.

Worst of all, there were a number of pensioners really toiling as they had to stand waiting all this time and then be disembarked struggling with their luggage not down the gangway but via the car deck?

The gangway was obviously unfit for purpose at Uig and Tarbert ferry terminals!

There was worse news for the cars and passengers waiting to go back to Uig in reasonable weather conditions (those passengers had waited all day for a sailing from early morning) but the ferry was cancelled.

The above observations may be a small caption of discontent in a much bigger picture but that is all the information we have at the moment – and it seems to be bad enough.

The North Harris Community Council will be writing to the Chief Executive Officer of Caledonian MacBraynes to seek a full explanation of this service .

John G Mitchell

Vice-Chairman North Harris Community Council

EDITORIAL - £15m INVESTMENT BUT FLIGHT ISSUES GO ON

Our letters page features concerns of islanders in regards to transport links this week, particularly in regards to the Islands’ air services.

An announcement this week by air service provider Loganair about how the business is performing and its £15m investment into operations has yet to impress the general public who are still enduring delays and problems with no clear end in sight.

The company has stated in the past that “it needs time” to sort out these concerns, but with a significant investment already made in its engineering department, we would expect to hear less reports about ongoing issues.

It would be useful if the company provided some clear statistics about technical issues over the last few months, which may demonstrate an improving situation, but such information is not available to us.

They proudly declare this week that their punctuality figures for all flights departing within 15 minutes of schedule currently sits at 77%, higher than the UK industry average. It would be more useful to know how that punctuality target sits in regards to flights to and from Stornoway.

The news that £4m of the £15m investment is to purchase two 50-seater Saab 2000 aircraft, with one of these planes used to support the Stornoway service for one rotation is welcome, however at the moment the public’s verdict on Loganair’s report card is “Must Do Better”.

Pictured is our image of the week which was submitted by Island photographer Angus Maclean (Digital Overdose) and is an incredibly colourful shot of a sunset over Eoropie Beach.