The UK’s only scheduled helicopter service will begin in May from Cornwall – The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company announced this morning it will begin up to 8 flights a day – year round – from Land’s End Airport to St Mary’s in a brand new ten seater aircraft.
The new service will fly up to 20,000 passengers a year, boosting the islands’ tourism economy and say the steamship company, offer choice to Islanders.
Cornish Stuff was lucky enough to be invited to a test flight today.
The announcement caught many by surprise – not least rival Penzance Heliport Ltd who have recently submitted an application to build a heliport and run a service from Penzance. The old heliport closed in 2012 and the Sainsbury’s supermarket was built on the site. The heliport group have said they will continue with their own plans.
“Penzance Heliport Ltd remains committed to reinstating genuine choice and reliability to the Isles of Scilly transport system through a helicopter service from Penzance”.
The Steamship Company said today that their new service had been two years in the planning and will be of immediate benefit to the islands. They will continue to try and build bridges with the heliport group and Tresco owner Robert Dorien Smith. The Steamship company hope to add a service to Tresco from Land’s End as soon as possible.
The Steamship Company told us “Our research showed that Islanders wanted a helicopter service, not necessarily a helicopter port.
Island Helicopters complements the existing air and sea links to the Isles of Scilly, bringing more choice, flexibility and capacity to the transport network – something everyone wants to see”.
Land’s End Airport handles over 60,000 passengers and more than 10,000 aircraft movements a year.
Following the announcement this morning the Steamship comapany received over 17,000 hits on their website by lunchtime and their office had been fielding 1,000 enquiries per hour.
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Island Helicopters – the trading name of the new service – will be operated by Gloucester-based Specialist Aviation Services (SAS) in partnership with the Steamship Group using a brand new AW169 aircraft. SAS already operates the Cornwall Air Ambulance from Cornwall Airport Newquay.
A statement from Penzance Heliport Ltd company reads
“The near sea-level location of the Penzance Heliport site is the keystone to reinstating a reliable, weather-resilient helicopter service to the Isles of Scilly. Land’s End Airport – which suffers disruption on one in every four days each year – is the problem, not the solution.
Today’s announcement sadly signals no more than one company tightening its stranglehold further on these islands. It is a blatant attempt to retain a monopoly that is not working in the interests of these islands.
The public reaction to today’s announcement has shown that people want genuine choice and real resilience in the Isles of Scilly transport system. That has always been our vision, and today we reaffirm that commitment”.
Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport (FRIST) has issued a strong statement in support of the project to reinstate helicopter flights from Penzance Heliport to the Isles of Scilly.
The campaign group’s statement says Penzance is ‘a superior’ terminal for a helicopter service to the Isles of Scilly, owing to its strong transport links and weather resilience benefits.
The statement also condemns the actions of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company as ‘spoiling tactics’ not taken ‘in the interests of the community’, stating the company’s proposed alternative helicopter service will ‘leave islanders and visitors at the mercy of a company whose exploitation of their monopoly position has earned it unprecedented unpopularity’.
Our friends at Radio Scilly say there’s been a mixed reaction to today’s news on the islands. The news was a surprise to all and the immediate reaction was that most assumed this would spell the end of the Penzance Heliport plans, which had received alot of support. Radio Scilly said the news was ‘alot to take in and people are digesting it. We’ll wait and see how it pans out’. Although any extra transport links are welcome the ‘winter resilience’ of the new service was called into question.
In June last year Steamship chair Andy May wrote an ‘open letter’ to islanders explaining why his company had objected to the Penzance Heliport plan, He wrote
“Our concern over the Penzance Heliport proposal is that there has not been a proper robust independent analysis as to the affordability of doubling up on the number of airports our community needs, and indeed currently has. In the end, it is always the user of services who pays for their building and running costs. We are deeply concerned by the potential consequences for our Islands’ community should a fourth dedicated airport, just eight miles from Land’s End Airport, prove to be unaffordable. Serious thought must be given as to whether there are simply enough passengers on the route to sustain a new and separate airport into the future. It is our opinion that advocates of the Penzance site have not properly considered this risk, and the consequences that would follow should their scheme fail. The hardships felt by us all as a result of the uncertainty and disruption caused by the last helicopter operator failure in 2012 are fresh in our memories”.