Councillors Cap Increase In Airport Landing Fees

St Mary's Airport

Councillors have rejected plans to increase airport landing fees by more than the rate of inflation, although there are worries that this could jeopardise the long-term financial stability of the airport.

Councillors at Tuesday’s General Purposes Committee, heard that the airport needs to generate £1.17m to cover costs this year, but had to take around £70,000 from the reserve funds to break even.

The airport is operated as a “trading budget” separate from the Council and receives no support from council tax payers.

Assistant Airport Manager, Howard Cole, said the situation was slightly better than expected as passenger numbers increased over the summer, but he recommended that landing charges should increase by 75p per 1000kg, a 7.9% hike over current charges.

Mr Cole said this was the minimum required to meet running costs and avoiding further need to use airport reserve funds.

The increase means it would cost around £60 to land a Twin Otter and £100 for a Sikorsky helicopter.

But Councillor Marian Bennett said that “with the vulnerability of our air operators” this increase was likely to be significant and she couldn’t support it.

She said that, if anything happened to the air operators in Scilly, “this Authority was likely to be subject to criticism” and the Council should be as helpful as possible in sustaining the air links.

Councillor Richard McCarthy agreed, saying he felt this would put undue pressure on the helicopter service, which was facing the largest increase.

He also questioned why Skybus could land both a Twin Otter and an Islander aircraft for £10 less than a chopper, although Mr Cole responded that the helicopter can carry more passengers so the charges even out.

Runway will need repairs soon

However, Committee Chair, Fred Ticehurst, warned that the reserve funds were “not in a very healthy situation” adding the runway will need to be resurfaced soon and that money had to come from the reserves. That could cost in excess of £1m, Councillors were told.

The airport has reserves of £243,000, which will be exhausted in around 3 years at the current rate of use although Councillor Ticehurst said that, if the helicopter service terminated, “we would have a very real crisis on our hands” and the whole airport operation would need to be reviewed.

Councillor McCarthy said they should go for a 50p increase, but review this later in the year if passenger numbers change significantly and Councillor Bennett felt this would be sending the right message to the operators at a time when they’re being asked to keep their fares at a reasonable level “in the interests of the community.”

Councillors rejected the 75p increase in favour of a 50p increase.

Repairs to paving on the airport apron area were also given the green light, at a cost of £8,000, although Councillor Bennett expressed surprise that no local contractors quoted for the work.