75 Years Of Air Travel To Scilly

The Isles of Scilly has been marking 75 years of air travel to the islands this weekend with events at St Mary’s airport.

And those interested in finding out more, had a chance to see an exhibition in the terminal building showing old photos, advertising brochures and tickets collected over the years.

Museum curator, Amanda Martin, who organised the display, gave us an insight into the fascinating history of flying here.

She said the first flight, a de Havilland Dragon aircraft, arrived on September 15th 1937 but at that time, the runaway was actually at the golf club. Tourism had started to take off in a big way at that time and Amanda said the first air travellers were well-healed, upper middle class people who had the money for the expensive ticket.

From Radio Scilly

Amanda Martin discusses the history of flight to Scilly

The golf club was used for the first two years because it was thought to be good, relatively protected site, with many features in common with the current airport. And it had easy access to Hugh Town.

But she says it didn’t take long to be moved to the present site, probably because the golf players were sick of having their games disturbed!

Amanda says St Mary’s was always going to be the prime site for an airport, especially with the difficulty of finding suitable terrain on such low-lying islands. In fact, only Tresco has another suitable flat area, but the runway would have taken up most of the centre of that island.

In 1939, there was just an old airport building, on the far side of the runway from the present terminal building, close to where the training helicopter mock-up is now. And it would have been very different inside from the current building too – Amanda said it was furnished with classic, Lloyd-Loom armchairs.

A detachment of Hurricane fighters was stationed at the airport during the war, but in 1947, BEA took over the route, flying de Havilland Rapide aircraft from Land’s End. BEA also introduced Britain’s first scheduled helicopter service to the islands in 1964, originally from Land’s End but transferring to a new heliport in Penzance later that year.

Brymon was here for many years and would have continued if a longer runway had been built. Amanda says they wanted to use larger Dash 7 aircraft and even produced timetables based on those planes and brochures advertising their 47-seat aircraft.

A significant development at the site was also heralded by the opening of the new terminal building at St Mary’s by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1975.

While this year has seen the sad announcement that the helicopter service will end after 48 years in operation, Amanda says we need to remember that many different operators have flown to the islands over the years, such as Scillonia Airways, Channel Airlines, Great Western and Brymon, and she says there’s no reason why that couldn’t happen again.

See photos from the Airport Funday here.