Workshop Discusses Future Of Scilly’s Air Links

St Mary's Airport

St Mary’s Airport

A group of islands’ business and community leaders met to discuss the future of aviation links to Scilly yesterday.

During the six-hour session at the Old Wesleyan Chapel, industry experts Parsons Brinckerhoff explained why they feel there’ll never be a ticket price subsidy for air travel to Scilly.

There have been calls for a public service obligation to be applied to the route. Remote Scottish island residents can gain up to 40% off fares, but aviation development consultant, Kathy Hicks, says they’d have no service there without subsidy. Skybus operates commercially without government help and Whitehall wouldn’t underwrite a route while a private operator continues to serve Scilly.

The Council’s aviation consultants believe we could double our air passenger numbers, adding a further 73,000 passengers each year, and they’ve held discussions with three airlines over the potential for new summer routes from smaller London airfields, Southampton and northern France.

The length of our runway limits the size of plane that can be used and the distance they could feasibly travel is 90 minutes, which could mean Oxford or Southend flights are possible.

But the possibility of through tickets with FlyBE, using Exeter as a hub, was also considered

And there could be future growth by promoting private charter aircraft bringing parties of friends, so-called ’air taxis.’ It may appeal to visitors who are better-off financially.

There was debate over the plans for a £1.7m upgrade to the terminal building, designed to improve the visitor experience. The CAA has recently said that airports planning to use the new EGNOS navigation system, which can help planes land in low visibility, must have a clear space of 75m either side of the runway.

Our terminal is 48m away, which means it might need to be rebuilt in the future and some attendees felt it would be a waste of money if that was the case.

The Council runs the airport as a separate business and there were concerns over how it would raise enough money to keep going in the future. Most attendees rejected the introduction of a Newquay-style airport development fee.

But it was the wider issue of how the whole tourist offering on Scilly could be improved that generated the most opinion. Many people felt that ticket price wasn’t necessarily the barrier to visitors coming, but people paying for expensive travel would expect a higher quality experience once they’re here.

And there was almost general agreement for Sunday flying, which many felt would bring the islands into the modern tourism age of weekend breaks.

The consultants will now produce an action plan for how to move forward with the airport improvements. There’ll also be a public consultation at the end of April.

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