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.

28 Responses to Helicopter Service To End In November

  1. John Hicks September 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    In response to the last couple of comments I would like to point out that for the thousands of people who drive to Cornwall and then on to Scilly, Newquay is a far better proposition as it will save over two hours of driving down to Landsend and back, and Newquay airport is but a very easy 10 minute drive from the A30. For locals going to Truro or Treliske there are good bus links into Truro which is a lot closer to Newquay than it is to Penzance.

    Jon C says ((£135 single from Southampton compared to £60 from Lands End, for example)) but by the time you add £80 for your petrol to get to Landsend and back from Southhampton you can see you are going to be paying almost as much for a round trip anyway.

  2. JonC August 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    A real shame and very sad news. I visited Scilly twice last year and plan to return again later this year, it is such a wonderful place to holiday. I use the combined rail and helicopter ticket from Penzance as the heliport is only a few minutes drive in the minibus from the station and it means I can make the journey in one day. As the Scillonian leaves early in the morning it means the extra cost of an overnight stay in Penzance or a *very* early start. I feel for the islanders especially and those on Tresco who will lose their direct link to the mainland. Do Skybus really have the capacity? Their planes from Lands End seat about half the number of people as the helicopters. Yes they use larger planes on routes further from Scilly but the prices rise very quickly if you use an airport further away (£135 single from Southampton compared to £60 from Lands End, for example). I hope someone takes on the service and keeps it in Penzance. Newquay has a poor train service in comparison to Penzance and the airport is a much longer joruney from the station too.

  3. DaveH August 2, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Such a shame and, unfortunatley, its going to make us think that little bit harder about whether we come to scilly now… my perception (and Im willing to be corrected) is that I have a much higher chance of being delayed or put onto the Scillonian if I travel by skybus, with a wife who gets chronically seasick, and I do mean debilitatingly seasick, I dont want to take the risk of being moved to the Scillonian… Lets hope for someone to either take over the route or some plan be put into place that means the skybus can fly in all weathers (ILS on Scilly and Lands end? I dont know the technicalities) I want to keep coming over but I have to think about how enjoyable or stressful the journey will or potentially could be.

  4. Cheryl August 2, 2012 at 10:44 am

    This is devastating news for the islands. With the steamship co having to pay dividends to shareholders every year the fares will never go down only up. And will the Government give subsidies to a company run like this. I mean correct me if I’m wrong but are there really 16 directors!! The helicopter had its problems but it was the last to stop flying in bad weather. Lands End always has problems with water logged fields and fog, New Quay is no where near a main train station and a nightmare to get to and from especially for islanders with no car and the boat stops in Winter need I say more. The Government should be backing an independent company like BIH to provide a cheap helicopter service to the islands which would bring back the tourists which we all so badly need. If they can do it for Scotland why not us.

  5. George Pearson, Community Relations Officer August 2, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Please find at the beneath link a statement from Mike Hicks, Chairman of the Council, Philip Hygate, Chief Executive, and Dudley Mumford, Chairman of the Transport Strategy Committee about the BIH developments.


  6. Simon August 2, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Tony Jones himself pointed out one of the problems this morning, the 61 would have been the height of rotary technology in the 70’s but now it has been superceeded by aircraft like the S-92 and the EH101 and the Eurocopter 332. They are much more expensive to run and are not ideal for the route (though I suspect could be with a little adaptation) on top of that, Sikorsky are not as interested in supporting the 61 because of these same reasons. Also take into account the cost of traveling abroad these days and the present financial crisis and there are a lot of things against the airline operating between the islands and penzance.

  7. Internet Man August 2, 2012 at 9:39 am

    IF another helicopter operator was approached under the proviso that helicopter ground staff would have to be paid 10% less, would that be something people (and those staff) would welcome?
    Would BIH come back to the table under those conditions even?

    We have to ask the obvious questions, ie, why was a helicopter service to Scilly sustainable in the 1970’s, but is not sustainable now? What has changed, and can we do anything to recreate that?

    • Steven G August 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      There was no other air travel competition for the helicopter in the 70s. People now have a cheaper, more frequent and of late, more reliable alternative.

      • IanT. August 3, 2012 at 7:51 am

        Perhaps you are too young to remember Brymon Airways Steven G.

        • Steven G August 3, 2012 at 5:43 pm

          I should have said no significant competition.

          Fourteen years ago the majority of our guests travelled by BIH, now it’s down to maybe 10%. Skybus now provide a cheaper, more varied and nowadays more reliable service – surely this has to be the main reason for the decline in BIH?

  8. IanT. August 2, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Councillors should be more concerned about the impact of the loss of the year-round helicopter service than unpaid landing fees. Skybus service from Lands End has always been more subject to the effects of weather than BIH. The demise of the helicopter service will make leaving the islands more difficult especially in winter.
    This will make journeys for medical reasons more difficult and near impossible for some disabled people. Getting in and out of an Islander is not easy at the best of times.
    As a result, it is quite likely that many will choose to leave the islands permanently and live on the mainland. Properties will become more difficult to sell and prices drop dramatically. It is possible that the whole tourist economy of the islands, which must already teeter on a knife edge, will collapse resulting in them becoming non-viable for any form of transport especially in the winter. Scilly will join the ranks of other island communities like St Kilda and be depopulated within as little as ten years.

  9. ritchie August 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Before having a personal rant spare a thought for the staff who sadly will be without a job in November and the business’s connected. One thing for sure this is not Tesco’s fault, it’s just a fact business’s need to make a profit to survive and BIH aint makin one ! On the positive side we are lucky enough to have a localy owned fixed wing service who will endevour to pick up the slack, and not necesarily “rip us off” with hiked up fares. Some good may come of this in the way of government support – well we can hope! Ritchie

  10. Simon August 2, 2012 at 12:59 am

    Wow Gordan, just wondering how you are privy to the confidential information that you have just passed on to us? what gives you the authority to ban the helicopter from flying in and therefore preventing a good proportion of visitors their hard earnt holiday……. then having a knock on effect by reducing the islands economy all the more.

  11. Gordon Bilsborough August 2, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Following the news that British International has decided to pull out, it is absolutely essential that its outstanding account for unpaid invoices for Airport landing charges is cleared. The local Council Taxpayers cannot be held responsible for picking up the tab for any unpaid debts incurred by BIH. I intend to press the Council to ensure that the company either pays up promptly or is denied the use of the Airport. The bottom line is that we do not pay for the commercial failure of a private company. If it wants to play it rough, so can we. I am hopeful that the Steamship Company can meet fill the gap created by BIH.
    This issue is vital to our future.
    Gordon Bilsborough

    • Adam Morton,St.Martins August 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      I hardly think this issue is vital Gordon.I for one would rather see my taxes spent supporting scillies travle links than for instance on a survey (not works) of the town hall.I recognise however that I have no say in either.I would like to see all our councillors working with the steamship co and getting on with a new high speed, comfortable & economic sea link for next year not fifteen years time.It is in my opinion the only economicly viable alternative to air travle.We do not need a bigger ship as the one we have is rarely full & therfor no larger quay is needed,Neither do we need a multipurpose vessle as the Gry is adequate and cheap to run and replace for freight.I do not think this will result in an immediate turn arround for our tourist trade but it would provide the means.You help controll a council that has officers and commitees for everything under the sun but we never see any tangible results of their labours and costs.We need ACTION not words commitees , meetings and officer appointments.If the IOSS co wont cooperate then perhaps its time to set up a publicly owned transport co to serve the islands not just the directors and shareholders of a monopoly.

  12. Dave Nevitt August 2, 2012 at 12:05 am

    So, not happy with destroying every high street in the land in the unquenching thirst for more profits, Tesco are now targetting innocent offshore islands and their inhabitants, just because they didnt get their way. Nice people.

  13. martin hall August 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    feel 4 the staff both sides…and wot about the unwell peoplele….bet they not gona keep calling culdrose n air ambulance everytime someone needs 2 get treatment on the mainland….bad weather in winter and no boat..cant see how scilly will survive…

  14. Richard August 1, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    So Skybus can develop with a degree of certainty – BIH had no commitment
    Let’s hope they can rise to the challenge & not rip everyone off in the process

  15. Miranda August 1, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I want to write an article about this to raise some support, anger and commiserations. I work in London as a writer but have visited the Isles of Scilly every year of my 22! I am the third generation of my family to do so, so my heart is in the right place! if anyone could put me in touch with perhaps some people who will be affected by this news, please pass on my email of mindy.day@gmail.com. This could really strike the heart of even those who have never been. I was a key member of Save the Hobbit Pub a few months back so I have good experience. 🙂

  16. Paul Whittaker August 1, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I also agree this going to have a big impact on the islands. I don`t think the tesco situation make any difference.BIH have said that the route from PZ to Scilly makes little or no money and to try sell the PZ site without having a suitable site to move to has always sounded to me as if they were going to pull out sooner or later. It has just taken them nearly three years to tell everybody.

  17. Stinking Porth August 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I agree it is sad news especially for the employees but lets be honest here I think we all knew it was coming. rotary wing aircraft cost alot more to keep in the air than fixed wing do and I don’t think the move to Newquay was going to work alongside Skybus flying faPpster quieter and cheaper from the same destination. I would like to think the directors of the Steamship co would not be as foolish as to kill the goose that lays the golden egg? Perhaps some good could come from this sad event in the form of an upgraded airfield to allow for reduced visability operation and with a potential increased customer base upgraded aircraft? 1 thing you can be sure of us Scillonians are a hardy and stubborn breed and we will survive.

  18. Badger August 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    soooooo, closing in november..right before the winter – no boat service..and only the skybus to rely on…oh my, sounds like a little more than memories that are going to be affected.

  19. dougie ferguson August 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    maybe everyone on scillies use asda online as a thank you to tesco?

  20. Liz Kent August 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks Tesco, what a pity!!!

  21. Lorna August 1, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    That is soooooo sad, my heart goes out to all the staff, the people of Scilly and all those who have the most amazing childhood and adult memories of flying on the helicopter. Fingers crossed that somebody is interested enough to buy it!

  22. Jenny Taylor August 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    This is terrible news, I feel really bad for all the employees and the owners of the company.

    We have had many holiday on Scilly and most of them we took the helicopter.
    Lots of happy memories coming to Scilly and seeing the Islands come into view, and many sad ones leaving.

    This is a real loss.

  23. Rich Kendrick August 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    That’s such sad news and really feel for all the employees that have worked so hard throughout years – Skybus have the Monopoly now and that may be great for them but not good for the Islands, bad news. This will have a devestating effect on Scilly’s Tourism 🙁

  24. JD August 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    This will have an enormous effect on the islands. Such a shame.