Sad Day As Last BIH Helicopter Set To Leave Scilly
The lives of many islanders will change from today as the helicopter service, which has linked Scilly with the mainland for almost half a century, will end operations.
Cllr Dudley Mumford says the impact of the loss of BIH will be immense, not least on the staff working on St Mary’s and Tresco, and in Penzance, who will now be out of a job.
Dudley says over 49 years, they’ve provided an excellent service and when first introduced were a “huge step change” on the old Rapide aircraft that were being used. This boosted the islands’ economy massively, he says.
Dudley says it’s likely we’ll notice the loss of the helicopters as the poor weather starts to set in, but adds that the Council will be concentrating over the winter months on improving the existing services and facilities. There are also plans to enhance navigation at St Mary’s airport to allow fixed-wing planes to fly in weather conditions that they would currently be unable to.
After 13 years at St Mary’s airport, Dave Page will be one of the familiar faces that travellers will no longer see at check in.
Dave said his last day was on Monday and it was “very upsetting” saying good-bye to staff and flight crews. He said it “won’t be nice seeing that last helicopter go.”
Dave says the service is totally unique with a more personal service than is normally expected from an airline. He says people focus on the ‘lifeline’ aspect of the airline but there are so many aspects of service that locals enjoy that may be overlooked today.
From conveying pets, seals and even a bat to mainland vets and animals experts, to arranging the transfer of Chinese meals and curries from Penzance, he feels locals will soon realise what has been lost.
It’s likely to be a particularly tough day for John Morley who, with his wife Julie, operates the BIH bookings office within Seasalt on Garrison Lane. John and his father started that service 48 years ago, when the rotary service was one year old.
Tresco will arguably feel the greatest loss when the service ends as the helicopter has provided their only direct mainland link since 1983.
Mike Nelhams says the island’s owner, Robert Dorrien-Smith, has worked hard to try and find alternative helicopter operators, to the point that he is almost exhausted by it.
But the estate management feel it’s time to accept the loss. The heliport will be maintained for a small number of private users and in case helicopters can be used in the future.
Mike says they have put together a seamless plan to accompany guests from the plane on St Marys and transport them by boat to Tresco although he admits guests have voiced concerns.
Tickets are still available for some flights today, on the last day of service, and Mike Nelhams will be on the last flight from Tresco. He says that will be a particularly sad event for him as he’s been involved with the service since he arrived on Tresco 28 years ago in various roles including fireman and radio operator.
He added it’ll be a strange experience to, “fly away on the helicopter but not come back on it.”
One man who wishes he was on today’s services was on the first commercial flight 49 years ago. Eric Woodin says he’s been over 59 times since that first journey.
He says the fact they were flying in a helicopter, in those days from Land’s End, came as a big surprise as he and his wife thought they’d be taking a fixed-wing aircraft.
Eric was featured in the in-flight newsletter in the mid nineties and was even given free tickets one year.
Over the past months, NHS, Council and Steamship Company officials have been focussing on how the helicopter loss will impact islanders who are less physically able. One resident with limited mobility has already left St Mary’s for a new home in Devon because, while Skybus have a stretcher services in place for medical transfer, she won’t be able to access flights so readily with the more constricted space of a fixed wing aircraft.
Skybus and LINk4Scilly feel that most patient medical challenges have been identified and plan to tackle the many upcoming problems.
Passenger numbers have dropped off in recent years from a peak of around 134,000 in the early 1980s to around 70,000 customers last year.
Skybus say they can cope with their extra demand and, whilst Dudley Mumford says there’s the potential for two new fixed wing service operators to launch upcountry routes, plans to bring in future rotary services remain vague.
Scilly’s MP Andrew George says he is optimistic that an operator could start services and he remains in talks with interested parties. He says, “no stone is being left unturned” but he admits that nothing will happen until the spring.
Dudley is less optimistic, claiming the chances of a new rotary service are “next to nil” and he told last night’s health transport meeting at the Old Wesleyan Chapel, that the “deal is done” on the Penzance heliport sale to Sainsbury’s, and work starts on demolishing the terminal there in the next fortnight.
BIH staff at St Mary’s airport will meet to see off their company’s last passenger helicopter from the airport at around 5.30pm today. The last helicopter from Tresco will be at 4.35pm.