New Airport Working Group Set Up

St Mary’s Airport

Councillors have agreed to tackle the falling passenger numbers and diminishing cash reserves at St Mary’s airport by handing over strategic control of it to a new working party.

Until now, the General Purposes committee, which looks after services such as waste, roads, sewerage and water on St Mary’s, has been in charge of the airport.

But members agreed at last Thursday’s Full Council meeting that airport will now be overseen by the new management group, which will answer to the Transport committee.

Cllr Dudley Mumford said it’ll mean a lot of work and difficult decisions but members need to grasp the nettle. The airport is estimated to run out of operational cash next year.

Strategic Investment Manager, Diana Mompoloki told the Council that the group needed to make fast decisions in order to deal with the serious state of airport finances. She says even if the airport picked up traffic from Tresco following the withdrawal of the helicopter service in November, the “trend is still down and we need to manage that.”

Diana said either landing fees need to rise or airport costs need to be reduced.

Airport consultants, Parsons Brinkerhoff, feel that a monthly meeting, devoted to finances and drumming up new business, offers the best solution for the future.

But Cllr Fred Ticehurst, who Chairs the General Purposes Committee, wasn’t happy that previous Council committee decisions were being overturned in creating this new group. He wanted to defer the decision, to give members more time to look at the options, although he did back the plan in the end.

There was also debate about which Councillors should sit on the new group.

The consultants proposed that the following elected members would serve: The Chair and Vice Chair of Policy & Resources, the Chair of General Purposes, the Chair and Vice Chair of Transport and the Chair of Planning & Development.

Cllr Ticehurst wanted the Vice Chair of General Purposes on the working party. He also felt there should be stronger representation of tourism and someone from Tresco airport on the panel, although Cllr Gaz O’Neil, who will sit on the group as the chairman of Planning and Economic Development, pointed out that he is also Vice Chair of the Tourist Board.

In the end, those additions weren’t included in the final proposal and Councillors voted in favour of the setting up the new working group, composed of the members recommended in the report.

During the meeting, Cllr Marian Bennett expressed concern over raising landing fees.

Afterwards, she told Radio Scilly that she is worried that increasing fees would affect tourism as it provides operators with an excuse to charge higher fares.

She says it may be advisable to subsidise the airport in the short to medium term and that could be achieved through efficiencies in other areas, in the interests of the economy.

 



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