FOR half a century it has provided a vital link to the most remote reaches of the Orkney archipelago, flying more than a million passengers to date.

Loganair's Orkney Inter-Isles Service, which connects Kirkwall with North Ronaldsay, Stronsay, Sanday, Eday, Westray and Papa Westray, celebrates its 50th anniversary today.

Operated on behalf of Orkney Islands Council, Loganair began flying the routes using an eight-seater Britten-Norman Islander aircraft in 1967 and has done so continuously ever since.

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The service is used by teachers commuting to and from schools on the islands, patients attending hospital appointments and residents popping onto the Orkney mainland for business or leisure.

The flights carry everything from blood samples to library books – and often welcome aboard mothers and their newborn babies travelling home from hospital.

Other regular passengers include police officers, doctors, vets, estate agents, telecommunications engineers, bank staff and electricity workers.

The most famous of the routes is the 1.7-mile hop between Westray and Papa Westray which holds the Guinness World Record as the shortest scheduled flight.

It takes on average around a minute-and-a-half – or a nifty 53 seconds in favourable winds.

Captain Alex Rendall, 28, from Tankerness is one of the Loganair pilots on the inter-isles service.

"We carry everything people in the isles need in their daily lives," he said. "You get to know all the regular passengers well.

"One of the best parts of the job is getting to fly among such beautiful scenery – I can't think of many downsides."

To mark the 50th anniversary Loganair has organised a special plaque tour in a gold Islander aircraft brought to Orkney by manufacturers Britten-Norman.

Leaving from Kirkwall this morning, a VIP-carrying flight will visit Stronsay, Sanday, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Westray and Eday.

The public will be able to join in the celebrations at Kirkwall airport from noon which include a static display of aircraft and performances by the Orkney Accordion and Fiddle Club.

Captain Colin McAllister, 52, who lives in Rendall, has flown with Loganair for 15 years. He will be on duty for the regular passenger service between Kirkwall and Sanday.

"I requested to be on the roster for the 50th anniversary because I wanted to do that flight," he said.

"We should have a commemorative cover to fly out which will get franked by the post office in Sanday and then picked up again on the afternoon flight.

"I'm pleased to be part of making a wee bit of history."

Loganair's managing director Jonathan Hinkles said: "The Orkney Inter-Isles Service is a jewel in our network and famous across the world.

"However, despite its fame, it's an essential life-line service for the people of Orkney, connecting the individual islands via a convenient air-link."