Helicopter Service To End In November

After 49 years of serving Scilly, British International Helicopters has decided to end their operations.

They’ll be pulling out of their Penzance to St Mary’s and Tresco routes on 1st November.

Chief Executive Tony Jones says the final straw came after three parties, including supermarket giant Tesco, mounted a challenge to the process undertaken by both Cornwall Council and the Secretary of State when planning permission was granted to allow Sainsbury to redevelop the heliport as a superstore.

Two years ago BIH bosses said they needed to release £8m cash by selling the Eastern Green land and that would bolster up their passenger services. This makes up a third of their business along with their North Sea and Falklands contract work.

But this morning, Tony said that even after cash was injected into the route, they would have faced the same problems in the future as passenger numbers have fallen in 10 years from 130,000 to around 70,000.

From Radio Scilly

Interview with BIH Boss, Tony Jones

And they don’t have cash in reserve to wait for the outcome of the judicial review.

Finding an alternate base to the current heliport has been problematic and this has led to local speculation about the company’s long-term intentions and commitment.

A site-sharing plan with Skybus at Land’s End failed when the Steamship Company ended discussions. And last year’s plans to relocate to St Erth as part of a joined-up road, air and rail hub were de-railed by strong local objection.

BIH say that process cost them £300,000.


“A hell of a blow”


Initial reaction from business and community leaders on the islands has been one of shock.

Chair of the Council’s Transport Committee, Dudley Mumford, said this was “a hell of a blow to the islands.”

He said the helicopters had been a lifeline link and it leaves a huge gap in our transport infrastructure.

He said his thoughts are also with the staff at Penzance and in Scilly.

Dudley said they’d need to let the dust settle, but he hopes BIH could reconsider their decision or another operator might step in.

Councillor Marian Bennett, who has been working hard to get Government subsidy for the routes to Scilly by raising awareness of the so-called “Scottish Report” said that, “apart from it being very tragic news for the islands, it reinforces our case for the Government to assist in subsidising our lifeline transport service.”

She said, “We can see from the demise of the helicopters how fragile that is. If that can go so easily, what about the rest of it? We have to get Government support.”

Marian added that having just one operator now makes us “even more vulnerable.”

The withdrawal of the helicopters adds to financial pressure on the airport. The Council can’t subsidise the ring-fenced airport account. It was set to run out of cash by 2014 and the loss of BIH landing fees could mean a £400,000 shortfall, although extra Skybus passengers will offset some of that.

BIH has entered a formal redundancy consultation process with its employees. Three people are employed at St Mary’s Airport and three people work at the Seasalt booking desk. Five Tresco Estate workers are also rostered onto the heliport operations.

The company says it will honour all customer flights booked up until 31st October 2012 and anyone with a flight booked after 1st November will be given a full refund.

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