By Scott Wright

LOGANAIR boss Jonathan Hinkles has conceded the collapse of rival Flybe has helped the company avoid the mass redundancies that have engulfed the aviation industry in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But he can give no guarantees that the Glasgow-based airline will emerge from the crisis without having to cut jobs.

Loganair, which has maintained lifeline services to the Highlands and Islands throughout the crisis, saw bookings “drop off a cliff” as the country moved into lockdown in March.

In a presentation to a Glasgow Chamber of Commerce webinar yesterday, Mr Hinkles praised the fortitude and flexibility shown by Loganair staff during the crisis.

However, he said the airline had been “fortunate” that the collapse of Flybe had helped it avoid making heavy redundancies, with Loganair picking up some of the routes formerly served by its one-time franchise partner.

More than 2,000 jobs were lost when Flybe failed in March, and there are fears tens of thousands of further jobs will go across the airline and cargo handling sectors because of the impact on air travel from the pandemic.

Mr Hinkles said: “The routes we are taking on, some of which we are already flying, from Flybe, [are allowing us] to counteract what would have been a cutback in our core business that would otherwise needed to have taken place.

“While we have not said, and I don’t think we are able to say, there will no redundancies in Loganair ... we are not expecting to be going into a wholesale redundancy programme of the likes that you see in other airlines that are being announced almost on a daily basis.”

He added it was “good fortune, rather than by design and strategic planning” that changes in the market meant it was able to pick up routes from Flybe that were “essential for connectivity to and from Scotland”. These include routes such as Glasgow and Edinburgh to Southampton, and Glasgow to Belfast City.

Mr Hinkles said: “That does help us to keep our aircraft fleet size and our employee group at roughly the same size.”

He added: “I regard ourselves as fortunate at someone else’s expense, I make no bones about that. That is a path we are able to take because it is open to us, and it is one that we will gladly take to keep Loganair strong, stable and solid.”

Mr Hinkles noted that the company had made “extensive use” of the government furlough scheme and kept 22 of its 44 aircraft in operation to maintain essential services to remote communities. The airline, which employs 850 staff, has split its employee base into two groups, who have worked on a “month on, month off” basis during the crisis.

Asked what government could do more to support the industry, Mr Hinkles said it was vital to allow the furlough scheme to be extended into the winter to avoid further redundancies in the aviation industry.

“Winter is always a tough place in the airline industry,” he said. “This winter is going to be tougher, darker and longer than any we have ever seen before.”

He also said the industry was pressing hard for a review of Air Passenger Duty (APD), under which domestic travellers are taxed twice on return journeys within the UK. Those travelling to destinations in the UK from countries outside are taxed once.

Mr Hinkles said this move would be vital to boost the staycation market, and hopes the UK Government will move swiftly to reform the system if the Brexit transition period ends in January. He noted APD reform has the potential be “one good thing” to come out of the “Brexit saga”.

While he welcomed the commitment given by the Scottish tourism industry to reopen on July 15, emphasising its importance for giving an “aiming point” for business and travellers, he said it was too early to say whether there were signs of a meaningful recovery in bookings.