Sunday Flying Passed Despite Claims Of Local Opposition

St Mary's Airport

St Mary’s Airport

The Council has approved Sunday flying from St Mary’s Airport.

The change was passed by 14 votes to 2 in a sometimes heated debate at Full Council on Thursday. It’s unclear whether flights will start in time for next season, though.

Stemming decline in our islands’ economy was the main argument put forward. It’s felt that Sunday flying would encourage younger visitors and the short break market.

Mike Nelhams said he’d seen the importance of weekend trips in his travels around the world and Gaz O’Neill added that he knew people who would like to visit but could not, because they had to be back for work on Monday.

Robert Dorrien Smith, who owns Tresco Estate, pointed out that all of Scilly’s economy is tourism-reliant. He didn’t want the situation to worsen from that in 2013 and felt that Sunday flying could help.

Hotelier James Francis added his view that locals who weren’t directly employed in tourism were being “naive” if they didn’t realise how linked to the visitor economy they actually were.

Christine Savill voiced a similar opinion. She feels that some winter services we enjoy are only available because of our summer tourism. Chris argued that tourists have to be the number one priority now, because figures had fallen so sharply.

Richard McCarthy explained that the Council had expected 108,000 airport passengers this year, a 10% increase because the Tresco helicopter services had ended. In reality, numbers were down by 16,000 and that meant a £172,000 ‘hit’ on airport income.

When the Transport Committee voted on Sunday flying plans last month, Cllr McCarthy opposed the proposal. But he said he’d reviewed additional information and was now in favour.

He warned that “keeping the status quo” was now “a greater risk,” although he accepted that the decision would have a cultural and environmental impact on the islands.

Loss Of ‘Special’ Sundays

The loss of the peaceful nature of Sunday in Scilly was a concern for some members.

Gordon Bilsborough didn’t want to jeopardise the one day when families could all be together.

But James Francis and Gaz O’Neill explained that rotas could easily be introduced and nobody would be working seven days a week.

Christine Savill was concerned that there would be greater change needed to accommodate Sunday visitors, though.

At the moment they’d find few cafes or services available but Cllr O’Neill explained that there had been little demand for his cafe when it opened on Sundays.

Avril Mumford felt that if people came, that situation would rectify itself.

Eventually 14 Councillors backed seven-day flying with Gordon Bilsborough and Adrian Davis voting against it.

Steamship Company Chairman Andrew May says the Council’s approval is “hugely significant” and he believes there’s a latent demand for Sunday travel, shown by the take-up of the Sunday boat service this summer.

Mr May says getting plans in place for 2014 would take “a great deal of work, co-operation and goodwill” but says “in theory, it could be done.”

The Transport Committee recommended that the new timetable for seven-day opening should commence no later than the 1st April next year.

‘Half Of Locals’ Against Sunday Flying

During the meeting some councillors spoke about the level of community representation they’d received on the issue.

Some claimed that islanders were split 50:50 for and against.

But the majority of locals who have posted on Radio Scilly’s Facebook page seem to oppose Sunday flying.

Fiona Maybrey says it’s “the last straw” as Scilly will no longer be “a haven of peace and quiet on a Sunday.”

Cllr Bilsborough feels that there has not been adequate public consultation. That’s a view shared by Old Town resident Karen Kershaw and expressed in the Council meeting by Fran Grottick, who felt many smaller accommodation providers would oppose Sunday flights.

Tolman Cafe owner Adam Smith goes further. He suggests there should be an island-wide vote on the issue.

The Council will review the decision after 3 years.

That’s because some members were concerned that additional costs of staffing a Sunday operation should not add to the airport’s financial burden.

Cllr Steve Sims said it is a “self calibrating” commercial decision. If Sunday flying doesn’t work for the operator it would end, he said.

As part of the changes, there’ll be an independent review of airport operations and costs. And Cllr Dorrien Smith said he’d hope to find that, with reorganisation, seven-day opening could be achieved on the current six-day opening costs.

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