Councillors Want Airport To Look At Efficiency Savings

St Mary's Airport

St Mary’s Airport

Isles of Scilly councillors want detailed figures to prove that St Mary’s airport is running as efficiently as it can be, before they vote on ways to put it on a firm financial footing.

The airport is now breaking even and it’s getting extra businesses since the end of the British International Helicopters service. They previously took around 30,000 of their passengers direct to Tresco each year.

That change has helped the Council-owned facility as 90% of the airport income comes from the airlines, through landing and passenger charges.

But current passenger numbers are still down on expectations. They’re 23% below estimates on the year to April.

June’s figures are also down 32% and that means income is £33,000 below the budget. It’s a problem because they can’t set aside the suggested £200,000 annually for the next 20 years to repair and replace infrastructure, in case grants for work dry up.

At last night’s Transport Meeting, Tresco owner, Cllr Robert Dorrien Smith said he feels that £200,000 is too high a sum to put into reserves.

He’s pushing for a full assessment on whether the airport is running at the lowest cost possible without impacting on safety.

Cllr Steve Sims suggested that the Council look at the Steamship Company’s Land’s End airport operation. He felt that there must be similarities in practises with St Mary’s airport.

But Senior Air Traffic Control Karen Fulton said there were many differences. Land’s End does share the same Category 3 fire status but St Mary’s air traffic control staff are busier.

Karen said there could be up to fifteen private flights a day.

Last night members were given a report outlining a range of options for sorting finances. But they brushed over many of them without any real discussion

Ideas included supporting the airport through council tax. At the moment the airport is a stand-alone account and has to generate it’s own income. A 1% Council tax rise would only bring in £12,000 and Head of Finance Iain McCulloch advised that any increase greater than 2% would need an expensive referendum, which the Council would possibly lose.

Charging a levy on business rates or a departure tax like Newquay were also options tabled. Iain felt a passenger fee would be “universally unpopular.”

The airport could also become someone else’s problem if it was leased, or it could be sold off. Marian Bennett felt that warranted further investigation.

But members spent most time debating a list of smaller income-generating ideas. These included paid-for wifi and using the airport as a function centre out of hours.

Putting in arcade machines could bring in £10,000, a cashpoint would earn £5,000 and car parking fees were also discussed, although the airport development plan will remove car parking from outside the terminal.

Robert Dorrien Smith felt some of the ideas would bring in “a few quid” but it wouldn’t be enough. So councillors threw the issue back to the Council management.

They’ll have to go through airport expenditure to highlight savings.

Their findings will be discussed a special meeting, provisionally booked for September, before any further decision is made.

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