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.

12 Responses to Workshop Discusses Future Of Scilly’s Air Links

  1. Chris April 23, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Having visited Scilly a number of times by ship and by air, I have to say that I love the speed and simplicity of travelling by air, not to mention the excitement. For such a short flight from Land’s End, the cost is quite high. A subsidy could help to reduce this cost and increase demand, however as others have mentioned perhaps it would be better to invest money into developing cheaper and more comfortable sea fares.

  2. al April 7, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Thought FRIST were promoting links to Scilly so won’t a new group simply dilute these efforts? I’m not sure the argument that Scilly wouldn’t be eligible for a pso because Skybus is commercial is that simple. Aviation to the Scottish Islands could be operated by a commercial operator without subsidy but that service would be grossly inferior to what operates now and much more expensive. Bit of finessing required here for Scilly? Like most of my fellow visitors I too value Scilly Sundays so be careful not to throw away your USP’s that quickly and whilst I’ve heard lots of moans about the cost of flights, seldom has the quality of the terminals cropped up. Whatever, I doubt the population of Kerry or even northern France ]outside of Paris affords much market potential! Better prospects with Oxford’s hinterland which wouldn’t require new runways and might be scheduled in cost effectively with their services to the Isle of Man. Skybus in Man!

  3. Ginnick April 7, 2013 at 11:31 am

    I think the journey down to the Scilly is part of the excitement and uncertainty for a lot of tourists. There are loads of places around the world where direct travel is not possible and their tourist trade is still booming. I agree with Alec, just let Skybus sort the flights out as it is and start thinking about improving our sea links, starting off with a better, faster, more comfortable ship(s).

  4. Alec hicks April 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

    All well and good talking about how to improve the airfield with more links the way to go for cost is by sea so leave skybus to do what they can, and put what ever money to sea links you can get lots of passengers on boats and cheaper than by air.

    • Steven April 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      When more people want to fly than travel by boat, despite the ship being much less expensive, why should money be concentrated on a sea link? Surely if we want to attract more visitors to the Islands we should aimed to provide them with the method of travel they prefer.

      • Neil April 8, 2013 at 11:08 am

        There is a problem with whatever solution – personally we don’t like flying in “small” planes – but liked the helicopter – but both are/were just 20 mins flying time and could be so arranged to allow travel from home to the area and get over to scilly in one day – the boat is cheaper than all but that normally means paying for at least one overnight stay in the Penzance area to fit in with the once a day sailing time – so negating any benefits of the boat. Then you add in weather problems – the boat sails almost all the time (sick buckets at the ready sometimes!) – the planes have problems when there is poor visibility or strong crosswinds.

        These are going to be testing times for the Islands in order to keep the regulars and the new tourists coming back to the Scillies and at the same time provide a quality and reasonably priced transport infrastructure that sustains the Scilly tourist industry.

  5. Peter April 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    I will keep saying it over and over again: Scilly needs to increase the flights from new destinations, which must mean enlarging the runway somehow. It’s all well and good saying how peaceful Scilly is and let’s not spoil it, but it will not exist at all as a holiday destination unless visitor numbers are managed upwards dramatically, and by “dramatically” I mean by thinking the unthinkable. Scilly was recently featured on a French TV travel programme. For what purpose? The obvious sales pitch is Scilly as part of the Celtic tradition: Cornwall, Ireland and northern France. But how would people get from northern France? Train to Paris, then Flybe from Paris to Exeter, then Skybus to Scilly. Or maybe Kerry to Dublin, then Flybe to Exeter, then Skybus to Scilly. I don’t think so. We need direct flights from northern France and from, say, Cork airport. It seems that the terminal at St Mary’s may have to be knocked down anyway, and much money is being wasted at the moment in “improving” the terminal which is already perfectly adequate from a traveller’s perspective (even if in the wrong location aeronautically), so why not seize the moment to relocate the entire airport so that a longer runway is possible? Where? I don’t know. So stilts out to sea, as at other space restricted airports, seem the only answer. As I keep saying , you then have two problems: the Duchy, and decision-making by committee, the latter of which in my experience is a recipe for inertia and mismanagement.

  6. Nobby Nobbs April 6, 2013 at 12:10 am

    Here’s a money saving idea

  7. Paul Pounds April 5, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Something’s are perfect as they are, trying to keep up with the so called “modern world” isn’t always the best way forward.

  8. Terence April 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Scillly is one of the few places left in England where Sunday is a less frantic, more peaceful day. To allow Sunday flights might be desirable for commercial interests, but it will harm what remains of a quiet Sunday, especially for the families of those workers who will be required to work. This idea needs to be put to a wider constituency than just comercial interests.

  9. Mark Prebble April 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    A public consultation after the action plan has been drawn up to view the proposals….or a consultation that feeds public opinion into the plan for development of the airfield?

  10. graham thompson April 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    As a regular visitor to the Islands, I love the peace and tranquility and lack of cars. Please don’t ruin that by flying in another 73,000 people. As for air fares, I think they’re high enough, especially as I now have to pay full fare for my dog. At the moment I think that accommodation cost in Scilly is reasonable. Pushing up fares will put downward pressure on those providing accommodation.
    Bigger isn’t always better!