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There’s continuing disagreement about how air services were agreed for the route between Benbecula and Stornoway, with Loganair the latest to pitch in a new version of events.

Loganair’s service on the route finished as their contract ended on Monday (1 April), but Uist travellers have to wait nearly two weeks for the next plane, operated by new contractors Hebridean Air Services, who have won the Public Service Obligation (PSO) contract from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

On Friday (29 March) Comhairle representatives issued a statement saying that Hebridean Air Services offered the only compliant bid for the service, using smaller planes and operating on the route on three days a week.

But yesterday (Tuesday) Loganair’s spokesperson contacted, asking for a further clarifying statement to be issued.

They said: “Loganair submitted a bid for this route and expected to operate it from a Glasgow based aircraft.

“It has been a privilege to provide vital regional connectivity on the Benbecula-Stornoway route over the years, but our new ATR fleet would provide too much capacity for the demand and is therefore unsuitable for continued and sustainable service.

“We wish the new supplier well and look forward to welcoming our Benbecula and Stornoway customers on other Loganair services this summer.”

That re-opens the question of why CnES accepted a bid which was not their only option and which, while compliant with their requirements, is causing new concerns for passengers.

There are questions over whether the aircraft proposed – a nine-seater Britten Norman Islander – adequately serves people who need to travel for hospital treatment, whose bookings form a large part of the regular business on the route.

Several people commented on the CnES announcement, outlining their concerns. One said: “How do people (who are) wheelchair-dependent access this tiny aircraft? Do they not count? NO lift to get patient with disabilities or elderly patients onto this plane.”

The concern is borne out by information on the Hebridean Air Services website, which has this to say about carrying passengers with reduced mobility: “The aircraft operated on these routes may impact on our ability to carry passengers with reduced mobility.  

“There is no mechanical aid available or suitable for assisting passengers to board/exit this aircraft type. 

“The door sill height is 60cm off the ground. We supply a small step-up to assist those passengers that need it. 

“We would suggest that persons of reduced mobility travel with a companion who can assist with boarding or exiting if required.

“In order to ensure the safety of all passengers on board it is a requirement of the airline that all passengers must be able to board/exit the aircraft without the need for staff support.”

The issue of seat availability on the much smaller plane was raised by one traveller, who said: “As a patient who has to use this service for chemotherapy, this scenario absolutely horrifies me.

“I really do think councillors should stand in the footsteps of patient constituents on one of these runs when you feel poorly, weak and downright exhausted… probably without an escort as there may not be room.

“Many people are going to choose not to travel because the ordeal is too much.”

Asked for further comment, a spokesperson for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said yesterday: “Hebridean Air Services submitted the only bid that was within the Comhairle’s budget and met the required contract length.”

The pictures show the Britten Norman Islander aircraft on the ground, in flight and demonstrating the access solution for people with reduced mobility (Hebridean Air Services).