Dear fellow travellers
The sun sets early in the Outer Hebrides at this time of year. We know that well, as we are presently enjoying a few winter weeks on the island of Barra.
It will already be dark today long before Loganair's flight LM247 takes off from Stornoway around 17.30. Sunday's flight marks the last direct service from any of the Scottish islands to London.
The direct flights to London represented a much vaunted opportunity for the Outer Hebrides. But an intermediate touchdown in Glasgow, plus the choice of Southend as the London-region airport, probably deterred would-be passengers. So this new route, only launched in late May 2019, is already consigned to aviation history.
It's not just flights from the islands to London which have slipped from the schedules. It was with much fanfare that in 2017 Scottish airline Loganair announced direct flights from Manchester to the Outer Hebrides, to Orkney and to Shetland. All three routes operated in summer 2018, but the Shetland and Orkney services have since been dropped. Next year, there will just be Saturday and Sunday flights from Manchester to Stornoway, geared mainly at the holiday market. The twice-weekly link will operate from April to October. These will be the only scheduled flights in 2020 from any Scottish island to a destination in England.
Other attempts to link Scottish islands directly with London have been equally short-lived. The Faroese flag carrier Atlantic Airways offered a non-stop twice-weekly service from London to Sumburgh Airport in Shetland for brief summer seasons in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
The agile nature of the UK aviation sector means that London airports may pop up again on the destinations boards at Stornoway, Sumburgh and other island airports - but Loganair's failure to make the Southend route work may deter new market entrants. The airline has been a mainstay of Scottish island aviation and commands strong community support in the Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney.
Loganair has recently secured a renewed Scottish government contract for supplying the lifeline air links to Barra, where a long sandy beach serves perfectly as the runway. Although we have only ever used the boat for our regular journeys to and from Barra, we often head up to the improvised airport to watch the planes land.
Loganair is also applying for the contract to run the inter-island air services within the Shetlands, which is up for grabs from 1 April 2020. The airline already runs the Orkney inter-island links, but in Shetland rival operator Airtask is the current incumbent on the short hops between the islands. With Loganair already dominating the scheduled flight market from Shetland to mainland Scotland, the company must surely be a strong candidate for the inter-island contract. Loganair has shown real commitment to Shetland - next month, for example, the airline offers a couple of Bergen to Shetland rotations to allow visitors from Norway to attend Shetland's Up Helly Aa festival.
In Orkney, it's Loganair who have for many years operated the world's shortest scheduled air route, namely the service between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray. But we wonder if anyone has noticed that from next year Loganair will also be offering the longest non-stop domestic route in the United Kingdom. The company will launch an Aberdeen to Newquay route in April with an intermediate stop in Newcastle. But on Saturdays from 23 May, there will be an additional Saturday non-stop flight on that Scotland to Cornwall route - a distance of 774 kilometres. One for those chasing aviation records perhaps?
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)