One Year On: Mixed Views On How The End Of The Helicopter Service Has Affected Scilly

Photo by kind permission of Kate Ticehurst

Photo by kind permission of Kate Ticehurst


It’s exactly a year since British International Helicopters ended their passenger services after 49 years of flying from Penzance to the islands.

At the time there were concerns that the loss of the rotary route would have significant impact on the islands’ economy.

Visitor numbers are down – by a third in June, for example, but there are mixed views on how much of the decline is due to BIH pulling out.

There’s been little impact for some businesses like the Garrison Campsite. Barbara Moulson says most campers use the boat and none of their cottage guests who used the helicopter seem to have been put off visiting this year.

The end of direct flights to Tresco could have had a serious impact on that island’s occupancy levels too, but Mike Nelhams says the estate has worked hard to make sure that’s not been the case.

He says they’ve not heard complaints about the BIH closure during the Tuesday social evenings they arrange for visitors.

Mike says the island has worked hard to create an easy transition for guests traveling through St Mary’s and they’ve made the boat transfer part of the holiday, which he feels heightens the experience of visiting an island.

And he says the Steamship Company’s investment in Land’s End Airport and the Scillonian III upgrade has brought many favourable comments.

That’s a view shared by Star Castle Hotel Manager Zoe Parry. She feels the company’s efforts have ensured that visitors have a good experience.

Islands’ Partnership Chairman, Chris Gregory, says it’s a year on and “how things have changed”

He says Skybus has provided additional services to the islands, offering nearly 200 flights every week in the summer season.

And he says getting to Scilly has “never been easier or as enjoyable” with the new Land’s End terminal building and St Mary’s airport due to be substantially refurbished in the spring.

MP Andrew George says that the Steamship Company has “stepped up to the plate” but feels more can still be done.

But Tim Guthrie who operates holiday lettings business Come To Scilly on St Mary’s says the islands have lost a major promotional tool in helicopter.

The rotary flight to Scilly was a great experience for travellers, he says, which shouldn’t be underestimated.

Chris Thomas, who chairs the Council’s Transport Committee, agrees with Tim. Chris says many visitors considered the helicopter an exciting and unique part of their holiday. And he has heard many travellers say they regret not using it when the opportunity was there.

For some locals there are concerns that media publicity surrounding the end of the rotary route still leads visitors to believe that Scilly is hard to access.

Tim says there is a perception that we’re inaccessible and says people on the mainland often tell him they didn’t realise there are alternative flight options on Skybus.

Zoe has had a similar experience. She points out that the media has made little reference to Skybus picking up the shortfall by offering additional flights.

But the loss of the helicopters has meant some travellers can’t come any more.

Chris believes there are visitors who have been put off visiting because they don’t like sea travel and have concerns about access to the small Islander aircraft.

He says that getting on a Twin Otter via the steps is similar to the helicopter and this fact needs to be pointed out to potential passengers.

Away from tourism, Isles of Scilly Healthwatch says that some medical passengers have complained that they find the fixed wing planes difficult to use with their lower headroom and seats.

But Manager Carol Clarke admitted she had anticipated more complaints about the loss of BIH than they’ve actually received.

Tim and Zoe both agree that more marketing needs to be done to promote the Steamship Company services and Tim feels the company needs to change its timetable to make travel more attractive for long-distance visitors.

He wants recognition of the distance people have to travel to get to a departure point for Scilly.

Varying the Scillonian III boat departure times would help, he says.

Despite the obstacles, Zoe believes that the price initiatives introduced by the Steamship Company, combined with the loss of the expensive travel element in the helicopter, means the average travel cost to the islands is lower than in recent years.

As for the future, Andrew George is hopeful that a helicopter service will return.

He says he is still in talks with unnamed individuals over restarting the route but adds that nothing will happen in time for next season. If a new service starts, it’ll be in 2015, he says.

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