Fresh safety fears have been raised about flights to and from the islands after a crack was found in a plane’s propeller shortly before it was due to take off.
The Glasgow-bound aircraft was grounded at Stornoway after a pilot spotted the fracture while 24 passengers were boarding.
The plane – operated by Loganair on behalf of Flybe – had arrived in Lewis with passengers on board earlier in the morning.
The issue emerged just days after the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) sparked a major row by raising concerns about the safety of Loganair’s planes.
An internal letter from the union, sent to the airline’s chief executive Stewart Adams, complained that aircraft were “being returned to the line despite being unserviceable” and in some cases “aircraft retain defects that clearly affect flight safety”.
Mr Adams insisted the safety of passengers and staff “is and always be our number one priority”.
The airline insisted last night that the damage to the propeller was only “slight” – but north politicians urged the firm to take urgent steps to restore public confidence.
The fault was discovered by a pilot undertaking checks while people boarded the 8.35am flight from Stornoway to Glasgow.
A Loganair spokesman said: “The pilot noticed there was slight damage to a propeller blade during the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft scheduled to operate the Stornoway to Glasgow service.
“A replacement aircraft was flown in to take the 24 passengers on to Glasgow and the aircraft is currently being repaired by our engineers.
“We would like to apologise to our passengers for the inconvenience today and reassure them their safety and that of our crew is always the first priority, as shown by the fact the aircraft was removed from service when the fault was found.”
The plane had flown from Glasgow to Stornoway Airport earlier in the morning with passengers on board.
When the safety fears emerged last week, Mr Adams said the final decision on whether or not a flight departed was “always in the hands of the pilot” and that “none of our pilots would ever leave the ground if he or she had any safety concerns”.
Northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael has already raised his concerns about the airline with UK Government ministers.
Last night, he said: “This year has seen more safety issues emerge than I have known in my 14 years as a member of parliament.
“I know that the Civil Aviation Authority are keeping a close watch on Loganair operations. They now need to be telling us what they are finding.
“Anything less will serve only to undermine public confidence in the service and that is in no one’s interests.”
David Stewart, Highlands and islands Labour MSP, said: “I am extremely concerned to hear of this incident today which follows the concerns raised last week by the Balpa union.
“The safety of passengers is paramount and the company and the Scottish Government need to address this as a matter of utmost urgency.”
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has written to Loganair over the “concerning” increase in delays and cancellations.
Mr MacNeil warned the company that it “must take steps to improve the service and regain public confidence”.
“This is an ongoing problem, many people are affected by the increased frequency in flight delays and cancellations,” he said.
“Flight delays and cancellations create real problems for the travelling public whether their travel is for business or pleasure and is an additional stress for people who are travelling to the mainland for hospital appointments.”
Last year, passengers on a Loganair plane were delayed for more than two hours while they waited for glue to dry on the aircraft’s tail wing.
A last-minute repair held up 15 passengers on the flight from Edinburgh to Stornoway, operated by Loganair.
The plane was delayed for two hours while a pin-size hole in the plane’s de-icing system was patched up.