MP More Confident That Helicopter Service Will Continue

Scilly’s MP says he is more confident that a helicopter service to Scilly will continue than he was last Wednesday when BIH announced the end of their operations.

Andrew George says he’s had a number of conversations with people with interest or experience in the route since then.

BIH chief executive Tony Jones told us that the ongoing service can’t be sustained but Mr George says he’s spoken to experts, some of whom know the route well, and he believes the route is financially viable.

This week, the MP will meet with Tesco chiefs at their Hertfordshire HQ to discuss their willingness to drop the judicial review action if an agreement is made to continue the service.

BIH declined to respond when we asked whether Tesco’s comments or the public response to the cessation of service affects their decision to stop the service in November.

Two additional potential legal objections remain but we understand one relates more to  previous concerns that St Erth could be used a heliport base, although it does touch on general concerns about the environment.

The other judicial review has been tabled by former Steamship Company boss, Charlie Cartwright. He also objected to the Harbour revision order, which delayed the Route Partnership plans for Penzance Harbour and which was later dismissed.

Charlie says he’s not happy that, if the BIH service were to continue, there’d be another out-of-town supermarket and a need to find another heliport site.

He says the two issues should be bundled together as the ‘total picture’ and not ‘salami-sliced’ to try and get around the legal requirement for an impact assessment.

He claims the helicopter firm has just released their ‘pot of gold’ and he hasn’t heard whether the Law Lords will entertain his objection.

Penzance Chamber of Commerce Chairman Dick Cliff doesn’t share the MP’s positivity. Dick feels it is unlikely that the route can be salvaged because helicopters are more expensive to operate than planes and will always be at a commercial disadvantage to Skybus.

And Council Chairman Mike Hicks says he is pessimistic. The BIH Chief Executive has written to him highlighting the economic problems of running the route.

Mike hopes to meet the MP and a group of Penzance business and community leaders later this week at their request, to discuss what could happen next.

Andrew George says, “No stone is being left unturned. All parties are determined to do all that they can to save this service.“

Some Radio Scilly listeners have emailed after they saw a BIH helicopter offered for sale on the internet in July. Tony Jones says they currently own five Sikorsky S-61 helicopters and they can no longer use this model for their oil and gas contracts, hence it’s surplus to requirements.


12 Responses to MP More Confident That Helicopter Service Will Continue

  1. JayPaul August 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm


    Unfortunately it’s not as straight forward as parts etc. The Seakings are flying years past their retirement age, and are either SAR or active aircraft at home and abroad for the Marines. Aircraft components have a lifespan, even if still looks in perfect condition it needs to be removed and replaced once it’s clocked up a specific number of flying hours.

    Air worthy equipment in itself is not cheap, something as simple as a fastener, something really small can cost in the region of a hundred pounds with something as big as the main gear box (overhead rotor) costing hundreds of thousands for a civillian aircraft. Anything that is certified airworthy is not cheap, so any investment in the service would need to be considerable.

    It wouldn’t be viable from an insurance point of view either for the MOD to run the service, especially at a point that they’re trying to save money and make cuts.

    PR wise it would be great for them.

    But the practicality of such an operation is dead in the water, the most I could see is pilots on loan clocking up hours and on aircraft type. Perhaps a joint deal if money is to be saved somewhere but certainly not a solely MOD run operation. If people are interested in that concept though then perhaps individuals or the island council should write directly to the commander of the base.

    @Stuart That’s not an overally bad idea bar the increase in traffic it would produce on an already congested piece of road. Certainly a feasible suggestion and perhaps one that truro city would consider if it meant greater tourism into the heart of the city. Again as above the only way these sort of actions are going to happen is if people not only suggest but act on them.

    Somewhere like truro would increase operational cost though, between maintenance, wage and fuel. Certainly a reasonable concept though.

    • Kev Wright August 16, 2012 at 10:47 am

      That’s fair enough JayPaul, I was thinking out loud as much as anything. Putting ideas out there and seeing if people can run with them is never a bad idea. What I was thinking was the commercial terminus being just outside the main entrance to the site to prevent extra security checks and whatnot. If it can’t be done their fair enough. It was worth a thought at least. Sadly I’m no expert on this matter.

  2. JayPaul August 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I recall talk of the contract going out to tender a few years’s been a long time coming, yet they’d still need a point of customer operation as Culdrose won’t let members of the public through the gates uncontrolled. It’d be a security minefield for me..I forgot my pass on a few occasions! You don’t get onto base without a photo taken, information taken and a pass issued. Unless you’re david beckham that is!

  3. Stuart August 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    If anyone does take over I hope they fly in and out of Truro.
    There is a field next to the park and ride car park on the A390 just begging to have a big letter H painted on it.
    Advantages are….
    Park and ride to the hospital, railway station and city centre all of which are 5-10mins away on the bus
    Big field in the middle of nowhere, so no one to upset.

  4. Kev Wright August 13, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Culdrose, I assume, have spare parts and spare choppers. Plus they may even be able to part fund their work there by operating a commercial service – or maybe even turn a profit! All it would take is upgrading a couple of aircraft to passenger carriers. Plus it would be extra excitement for the kids getting to go on holiday by an armed forces helicopter! A new terminus would be needed at the side of the base I assume, to prevent excessive checks and people having to pass through military buildings. But I honestly think this plan could be of benefit to both us and Culdrose.

  5. paul August 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Along a similar line to kev, the SAR contract is out to tender and I think I read that Bonds and Bristows were interested in this (both operate in the north sea oil fields)….could this lead to something?

  6. JayPaul August 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    In the cases of serious medical requirements, fair enough the Navy Search and Rescue do their job brilliantly and pretty much operate in most conditions. It has already been mooted that BIH were looking at alternatives to Land’s end, but when something is essential doesn’t the local authority override local protest? I’m not saying that’s okay’s been known to happen.
    With regards to noisy aircraft, the majority of people tend to get used to noise, whether they live near a road, or in my case I live within 10 metres of the main train line through Cornwall…in an estate that also backs onto it..people don’t complain to Network Rail or the franchise holders that there’s a train rumbling by at all hours of the day (because they’ve become used to it). I used to live near RAF Marham in Norfolk which had fighter jets flying up until midnight.and having worked at Culdrose and living within the county you get used to the sound of Helicopters.

    Out of a matter of interest Patsy, what would happen if the Steamship was to suddenly run into administration with no secondary supply available to the islands?

    Asides from tourism there are basic needs, not every resident of the islands is medically fit to use a stretcher or be seated within a fixed wing aircraft. The understanding is that the health services on the islands also need to be able to ship bloods urgently (these don’t keep, particularly for certain tests and need to performed within a set amount of time)

    Yes, helicopters breakdown, and increased use of the fixed wing will also require a higher level of vigilance and maintenance.. but the fact is…there needs to be a backup / alternative and preferably rotary wing option available to the islands that is not the Navy SAR.

    Let’s also take into consideration those that need to attend appointments on the mainland, it’s relatively easy to time appointments at St Michaels or West Cornwall to match in with BIH hours… Steamship if you have somewhere to stay or pay to stay somewhere. Newquay hospital does not provide a great deal of services so reliance on Lands End or Newquay is going to provide logistical issues.

  7. patsy August 11, 2012 at 10:03 am

    And where are the Steamship going to operate this helicopter(s) from, because I bet the residents of the surrounding area of Land’s End won’t want another noisy aircraft buzzing about all day. Their fleet of fixed wing aircraft are more than capable to supply the islands with what we need, the only major drawback is the lack of equipment at both airports to land safely in poor visibility as opposed to a helicopter. Even then the helicopter suffered from poor weather let alone all of its breakdowns, and who picked up the pieces then? The Britten-Norman Islander’s can also accomodate three stretcher patients and two medics. And for serious medical dispatches we normally use the RAF Seaking’s anyway.

    • Kev Wright August 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

      How about Culdrose? They have experienced pilots there and the facilities for refuelling etc, plus it would be a great way for them to incorporate more training into what they do. If an experienced and fully qualified pilot was at the helm them as less qualified (but by no means a novice) pilot could provide the other cockpit crew as part of their training/experience. And maybe if there was a training exercise like this incorporated it would reduce fees. The RAF would pay for the training as they currently do. One less salary to pay out – and maybe other cost cutting factors. I should again make it clear that I’m not talking about first time novices being in the cockpit, simply those pilots who need to gain extra hours in the air, under the supervision of an experienced pilot.

      • IanT August 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm

        Not a bad idea EXCEPT that military duties would always take precedence of civilian flights.Also travelling to Helston is difficult by public transport.

  8. JayPaul August 9, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Perhaps the resolve in all of this is that Skybus expands to a rotary wing division, either buying over BIH Helicopters or leasing newer models from an alternative source.

    The planes are not suitable for everyone for medical, physical other reasons and neither is the stretcher that’s to come in. The helicopters provide a vital link for patients to the West of Cornwall as well as from what I understand from an article online saying it ferrys the blood samples as well. If BIH can’t maintain it, another company needs to step in and perhaps it’s time for the steamanship to step up?

  9. Tamar August 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    It’s great that our MP is working so hard for us, but I think that he is on a fruitless mission. As mentioned in some of the other comments on former stories, I don’t think that BIH want to continue.