Airport Fees Frozen As Passenger Numbers Revised Upwards

airport from old townCouncillors have agreed to freeze the fees at St Mary’s Airport for the next year and to work towards increasing passenger numbers.

The vote followed a lengthy debate over visitor numbers, cost of travel and the tourism economy.

Last year’s airport budget assumed 108,000 people would fly through St Mary’s. The actual figure was 90,000 people, 17% below the estimate.

90% of airport income comes from aviation revenue and the airport is a stand-alone account.

In Tuesday’s Transport Meeting, Cllr Marian Bennett was advised in the meeting that it would be illegal for the ratepayer to subsidise the airport.

The fall in numbers presents an immediate problem because last year councillors voted to put aside surplus cash for future improvements.

Cllr Robert Dorrien Smith led calls to reject a proposal for a 3% landing fee rise. That was based on a reduced estimate of 90,000 air passengers this year.

Robert felt that the UK economy was improving and efforts had been made to promote Scilly by the Islands’ Partnership, to arrest 11 years of decline.

Robert and Islands’ Partnership Chair Chris Gregory felt that the Council would send out a powerful message if they were prepared to waive a landing fee increase.

Marian echoed that view, claiming that lower fares would encourage economic growth and members should think about the wider community rather than concentrating on the airport budget.

Robert was optimistic that more airport savings could be made as the Council has brought in Blackpool Airport Management consultants to look at expenses and airport systems.

The Council is also discussing sharing airport management personnel with Skybus and Land’s End Airport.

But not all members backed cutting or freezing fees.

Transport Vice Chair Steve Sims accepted he’d be viewed as “the miser in the corner” but felt that a 3% landing fee rise would bring a negligible fare increase.

Cllr Amanda Martin said she could sees both sides of the argument but would not support a cut. “We need to protect our airport,” she said.

Director of Place Craig Dryden warned of the “precarious” nature of the airport which remains under special attention by the Civil Aviation Authority. He spoke against reducing the proposed fee increase, so on-going improvements could be funded.

Cllr Richard McCarthy claimed that the Steamship Company would bring in “considerable” price increases in March and he was nervous about cutting landing fees if there was no certainty that the Steamship Company would pass savings on to passengers

Marian claimed that there had been “significant” hikes of 30% in Exeter ticket prices and 19% increases in Newquay fares.

She also took issue with fares advertised “from” £42 on the Scillonian.

She felt that not all passengers could access the lower rate and regular visitors would not take this well.

But Marian was warned by Amanda Martin that she couldn’t advocate the Council getting involved in fare setting, as it was outside their remit.

Cllr James Francis called on the new Steamship Company Chief Executive, Robert Goldsmith, who was in the meeting, to address these issues and indicated that offering a last minute ticket reduction would be positive, as the company had been “handled nicely” by the Council meeting.

The Steamship Company boss didn’t offer to cut fares. He pointed out that there had been a 25% rise in landing fees last year, but added that anything the Council does to help the Steamship Company to reduce costs would be helpful.

He said he was a on a “steep learning curve” but there were other issues, like accommodation cost, which had been highlighted by the Blue Sail tourism report and in the Transport Meeting.

He advised it was too early to predict whether Cllr Dorrien Smith’s optimism was being reflected in travel bookings as there had been much negative media publicity over difficulties in travel to Cornwall.

Cllr Dorrien Smith had wanted to aim for 96,000 passengers and potentially reduce landing fees. But he accepted that other members didn’t share a “casino” mentality, so he called for a freeze on landing charges and setting the target air passenger numbers at 93,000.

Head of Finance Iain McCulloch advised that increase would generate enough income to offset the need for a 3% rise and members backed that.

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