Runway Could Close In September Without Repairs

Runway will need repairs soon

The main runway at St Mary’s airport could have to close as early as September if it’s not resurfaced.

That’s the stark warning in a report that will go before Isles of Scilly Councillors this week.

“Significant issues” with the main runway were reported to the Council last September following a so-called grip test by the Civil Aviation Authority. This test identified that the runway was in very poor condition and had a likely life expectancy of 12 to 18 months.

At this point the CAA could restrict planes landing in wet weather and impose weight limits on the operator.

The Council has appointed a consultancy, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to evaluate the options for developing the airport, including the short-term requirement for fixing the main runway, as well as other possibilities such as extending the runway to accommodate larger aircraft.

However, the immediate focus will be on securing the funds needed for the repair work, estimated to be in the region of £1m.

The airport is operated as an arms-length ‘trading account’ by the Council and is running at a loss. Its reserves stood at just over £180,000 in March, down from £243,000 the previous year and at the present rate, those will be exhausted by around 2014/15.

Back in October last year, Councillors ignored the advice of airport managers when they capped landing charges below the rate of inflation instead of increasing them to replenish the reserves.

At the time, 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.

This leaves the airport in the position of having to raise the money needed through grant funding.

£500,000 has already been ring fenced from the Regional Growth Fund bid by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP and the rest could be match-funded by European Regional Development Fund money.

However, the RGF money can’t be used for the refurbishment work alone which is why Parsons Brinckerhoff have been brought in to look at a wider redevelopment of the airport.

Wider redevelopment of airport planned


Their draft report suggests additional work to repair the shorter grass and tarmac runway, resurfacing the apron area, reconfiguring the internal layout of the terminal building and adding new air traffic control systems to improve operation in poor weather.

They’ve also suggested moving the Fire and Rescue services closer to the main terminal and, on the recommendation of the Steamship Company, building a new aircraft hanger on the site vacated by the Fire service. This would allow SkyBus planes to be kept on the island overnight, or could be used for private aircraft, so generating extra income.

An extra measure designed to increase safety at the airport, could be to build a new link road allowing either two-way traffic to the airport, or a one-way system with the old and new roads. The consultants felt an accident on the current narrow, winding lane could hamper rescue efforts in the event of an accident.

If all of these measures are agreed, it’s likely to cost in the region of £5.1m

Parsons Brinckerhoff also looked at the option of extending the runway into the sea or over farmland to allow larger aircraft to land. However their opinion is that, at an estimated cost in the region of £12m and with the lengthy consultation and approval procedure required, this is unlikely to be cost-effective.

The report states that the time-window for obtaining EU grant funding is very tight. Work would need to be completed by December 2013, and this is likely to put pressure on Councillors to reach a swift decision when the plans are debated at Full Council on Thursday.


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