Brexit, competition, the level of air passenger taxation and the rising cost of fuel have been highlighted by Flybe as the key challenges facing the UK airline industry in 2018, Travel Weekly reports.

Chief executive Christine Ourmières-Widener was among a number of chief executives quoted by The Times on Tuesday looking at the main issues over the next 12 months.

The head of the UK regional carrier described Brexit as posing a challenge because legal permissions for airlines to fly between the UK and the European Union are set at an EU level.

“Although the UK will not leave the EU until 2019, there is a lot of work and negotiation to be done by governments on both sides,” she said.

“Airlines are already planning next year’s flights as scheduled flights typically go on sale 12-18 months ahead of time. For any airline, the sooner there is clarity, the better it will be for passengers.”

Ourmières-Widener added: “The cost of fuel is still well below the levels seen in mid-2014, but prices have been creeping up steadily since the low point in 2016.

“Many airlines are hedged at lower levels, giving them certainty on price, but as time goes by the increasing cost of fuel will be a challenge. The good news for consumers is that the fierce competition between airlines means that fares are unlikely to rise.

“With an average flight time of 59 minutes at Flybe, last year we invested heavily in aircraft maintenance to ensure that we have fewer technical delays.

“We know punctuality is critical for customers and so this will remain a key focus in 2018.

“This year we will also continue with the process of reducing our fleet size to an optimum level for our route network, investing in a new digital platform to improve our online offering as well as updating our branding.

“Finally, throughout 2018 we will continue to argue strongly for a reduction in Air Passenger Duty. We see the duty as a highly damaging tax and one which, if reduced, would support domestic aviation and also be in line with the government’s stated aim of spreading economic growth more evenly across the UK.”

Her comments came as Flybe prepares to better align capacity with customer demand on Scotland routes from Monday January 8.

Early morning departures will be offered from Kirkwall to Aberdeen and Stornoway to Glasgow on flights operated on Flybe’s behalf by Eastern Airways.

These will operate on two mornings a week – on Wednesdays and Thursdays from Kirkwall, and on Mondays and Tuesdays from Stornoway.

The re-timed flights will leave 40 minutes earlier from Stornoway and 15 minutes earlier from Kirkwall.

A Q400 turboprop currently operating an Aberdeen to London City airport service will be replaced by an Eastern Airways’ 76-seat Embraer 170 jet giving a slightly faster flight time.

Flybe interim chief commercial officer Ronnie Matheson said: “We recently stated that we would be making some positive changes to our schedules.

“I am pleased that we have now been able to adjust our plans to benefit islanders with early morning southbound flights to mainland Scotland with better, more convenient connections; and for customers using our London City services to and from Aberdeen, faster flight times that together offer the much-needed added benefit of affordable choices.”

The Scottish Government has set a clear aim to reduce the overall burden of Air Departure Tax - a recently devolved tax - by 50% and abolish the tax when resources allow. The Government believes that these plans will boost Scotland‘s air connectivity and economic competitiveness, encouraging the establishment of new routes which would enhance business connectivity and inbound tourism and help generate sustainable growth. Internationalisation is one of the four priorities for sustainable growth which underpins Scotland’s Economic Strategy.“We see the duty as a highly damaging tax and one which, if reduced, would support domestic aviation and also be in line with the government’s stated aim of spreading economic growth more evenly across the UK.”