CalMac has defended the use of a plane instead of a ferry to fly to Benbecula for a meeting about concerns over its unreliable service.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator's chief executive Robbie Drummond flew to Benbecula for a public meeting with residents in the wake of an outcry over ferry disruption in June.

The Herald previously revealed he was unable to take his car on a busy ferry on the way to South Uist for an earlier meeting to meet angry islanders over service problems.

Islander protesters say Robbie Drummond admitted he left his car on the mainland as he took a detour to make the trip to South Uist to meet concerned business leaders and residents who have been protesting over the loss of a vital lifeline service till the end of the month.

Ferry users were told that Mr Drummond was not able to get his car on the MV Hebrides which was travelling on an alternative route to North Uist given by CalMac because it was too full and had to go as a foot passenger.

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But CalMac said at the time he deliberately took the decision to travel as a foot passenger as per a company policy assuming the sailing would be busy and to ensure he was not taking up any space that a customer could use.

The Herald:

Robbie Drummond meets one group of concerned South Uist residents.

Mr Drummond had been holding a series of meetings in June to "discuss concerns" about local ferry connections and "spend time with local staff" in the wake of a shut down of services till the end of the month between the mainland and Lochboisdale - the port which links South Uist to the mainland. It led to hundreds taking to the road by foot, by car and by lorry to the Lochboisdale ferry terminal on South Uist on June 4 to vent their anger.

It has emerged that for a subsequent second meeting in South Uist on June 20 he and anther staff member flew to Benbecula - the closest airport.

The executive has come under fire for the use of the plane with Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson saying "it looks terrible" and that it spotlighted "the deficiencies of a lifeline service he’s supposed to be responsible for".

CalMac said that the second meeting had been arranged at "short notice" and that speed was of the essence to attend a public meeting and required senior management to attend.

They say Mr Drummond and other staff had other commitments which meant they could not go overnight and insist that it was not because they could not get there by ferry.

A CalMac spokeswoman said: “Our travel policy requires the most economical travel route and on some limited occasions, flying can be the most efficient way for our staff to travel.

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“Five out of the seven employees who attended the public meeting with South Uist residents on 20 June travelled by ferry. However, due to other work and personal commitments and a tight timeframe, two members of staff flew to Benbecula to ensure that they could attend the meeting.

The Herald:

The Lochboisdale ferry chaos demonstration on June 4

“At the meeting in South Uist, we pledged that our executive team will spend more time in the islands, and seek to employ more island-based colleagues, and central to this pledge is a commitment to travelling on our network wherever possible.”

Island negotiators said that Mr Drummond was forced to go on a lengthy detour for the first meeting as the usual link from Mallaig on the west coast of the Highlands of Scotland to South Uist had been shut down due to continuing issues with CalMac's ageing fleet.

Mr Drummond is said to have told a delegation that he left his car after being asked about how well his trip went.

Because the South Uist ferry was out of action, it meant Mr Drummond had to travel get to Uig on the Isle of Skye to take the ferry to Lochmaddy on North Uist to get to the the first meeting on South Uist.