The aviation industry has an incredible track record of responding to existential challenges by regenerating just as regularly as a Time Lord in a Tardis. It’s fascinating to look back at the dawn of the jet age in the 1960s and early 70s – rather like watching an early Dr Who episode with William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton – and reflect on just how far both air travel and its televisual transportation cousin have evolved with the passage of time.

Childhood memories of Dr Who for me in the early 1980s conjure up the era of Tom Baker and hiding behind the settee on a Saturday evening. To be candid, there have been moments in the last two years of the airline industry when the space behind the sofa has felt like a perfectly reasonable option. Our sector has been under siege like never before – and we’ve had to muster every possible capability and instinct to survive.

As Loganair celebrated its 60th anniversary in February, I trust that none of my seven predecessors could have taken issue with my assertion that this has been the most challenging period in our history. Yet regenerate again we must; and regenerate again, we will. We have an essential job to do, providing connectivity to remote communities throughout the UK where there is no ready alternative to air travel.

For many in the Highlands and Islands, Loganair fulfils the same function as buses and trains do in the Central Belt or the Home Counties. Even so, it’s crucial that we keep pace with the developments needed to assure another 60 years of survival for Scotland’s airline, which now also happens to be the UK’s largest regional airline. We fly to more UK airports than every other airline combined, but our position today compels us to lead – rather than lag – our industry up the mountain of progress that we can see ahead of us.

Foremost in that leadership will be developments to reduce and eventually mitigate aviation’s impact on the environment. We’ve taken steps to offset our carbon emissions through our industry-leading GreenSkies programme – a first move towards eventually eliminating our carbon emissions by use of new technology such as hydrogen and electrical power for regional flights.

I’m incredibly concerned that a single-minded Government focus on biofuel – “Sustainable Aviation Fuel”, or to use the acronyms of which our industry is so fond, “SAF” – will divert investment and intellect away from the development of these alternatives. SAF is the only viable option to de-carbonise medium and long-haul flights, but it is far from a similarly exclusive solution for domestic and regional flights. Everything suggests that we have emerging and practical capabilities in hydrogen and – for the shortest flights, such as Loganair’s inter-island services in Orkney – electrical power.

The Government simply has to avoid falling into the trap of taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach by assuming that a mandate to our industry to use SAF will be the fastest and only way to de-carbonise aviation. We support their broad objectives, but diverting all available investment into SAF – investment capability which is under pressure anyway as airlines seek to restore their battered balance sheets after the pandemic – is counter-productive, and will lead to higher fares for air travellers.

A broader strategy to pursue all practicable options to de-carbonise is the only way forward – and that’s why Loganair’s specialist pilots are in California right now to test-fly the first electrically-powered aircraft to assess their suitability for our operation. I’ve every confidence that we’ll see the first low- or no-carbon solutions in commercial passenger service well before the end of this decade, most probably starting with short-range flights within Scotland’s islands.

HeraldScotland: Isle of Barra airportIsle of Barra airport

Practical solutions must deliver safety and reliability for every single one of our customers. We’ve seen a major setback in that reliability with the UK Government’s crazy decision to withdraw from the European EGNOS system – leaving the UK as the only G20 nation with no satellite-based precision aviation navigation capability. We’re assured that the UK will develop its own capability – but even the most optimistic estimate is that it will take over a decade to launch our own satellite.

So, instead of our pilots being able to use precision SatNav to navigate into rural airports like Barra, Campbeltown and Tiree, we’ve had to revert to visual referencing, and cannot now land in conditions of reduced visibility. Customers on lifeline routes from the Isles of Scilly to the Isle of Barra are feeling the impact. Critical services such as emergency air ambulances are also less able to function in poor weather: it’s no exaggeration to say that this is putting the lives of patients in rural communities at risk.

The Department for Transport deflects responsibility for this to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The deflection is immaterial – until this is sorted, we have impaired transport, no industrial strategy and little business. It’s a lash-up of ocean-going proportions; a piece of Government-led vandalism of essential transport infrastructure. We’ll keep fighting the battle until ministers take up the cause and the UK re-joins the EGNOS system.

At the heart of all of these concerns lay safety, our customers and our people. They are fundamentals, without either of which we have no industry upon which to base our future. It’s right that every Friday’s Loganair company update concludes without fail by stressing the importance of these three interests.

A more recent development surrounds proposals to reform consumer laws for UK domestic flights. It’s a reform that’s as welcome as it is overdue; it could bring real benefits for both customers and airlines. The present system – incompetently designed in 2004 and thus repeatedly re-assessed via one European Court of Justice judgment after the next after the next – needlessly drives up fares for customers, deters airlines like ours from offering integrated ticketing with rail or road connections, and bungs up the UK’s court system. It’s such a mess that in Manchester – home to the jamboree of no-win, no-fee claims handlers – you’ll even find a dedicated Ministry of Justice unit just to process airline compensation claims. Is this really a sensible and proportionate use of our national justice system?

As ever, the devil of the consumer rights reform is within the detail. When quizzed by a journalist about “passenger handling” – another bit of industry jargon – the late Sir Freddie Laker shot back: “You don’t bloody well handle passengers, you look after them.” He had a point. It’s part of Loganair’s corporate DNA to follow Freddie’s epithet, but when we compete directly against rail and ferry operators, our legal obligations need to be proportionate to our rivals and the fares paid by our customers.

Having survived the pandemic, the challenges ahead of our industry are just as great, albeit presenting themselves in a very different form. I’ll quietly express my hope that they arrive in slightly more manageably-sized chunks for my colleagues and I than over the last couple of years! That said, I’ve absolutely confidence that we’ll continue to rise to these many and varied challenges to maintain the airline industry’s proud record of timely regeneration – benefiting our customers and the environment alike.

Jonathan Hinkles: Chief executive of Loganair.