Route Subsidy Would Deter Future Air Operators

St Mary's Airport

St Mary’s Airport

A subsidy on Scilly’s sea route could deter new airlines from starting services here.

That’s the warning given by Council Officer Diana Mompoloki at last week’s Transport Users Forum, attended by over 70 islanders.

Diana said a winter boat service could make Scilly air routes less lucrative to new operators.

Last Spring the Council hired aviation experts Parsons Brinckerhoff to find additional airlines to serve Scilly. Operators from Scotland and other UK islands were identified but no companies wanted to proceed then.

But Diana told the meeting that companies were now in contact with the Council. The thing that they are “most scared of is that we’ll get subsidy,” she said.

Council Chief Executive Theo Leisjer said they couldn’t reveal who they are, for commercial confidentiality reasons.

Mr Leisjer went on to explain that it would be “impossible” to get a government subsidy to operate transport services to Scilly, because of the high level of service currently offered by the Steamship Company.

Diana explained to attendees how so-called Public Service Obligations, or PSO’s work.

It isn’t a subsidy. A PSO is the approval to spend money to support a route.

She claimed that the Council would need to find that cash if a PSO was awarded. That could be “a large sum of money,” which is why the Council is “a little uncertain” about applying one, she says.

But Cornwall’s Lead Officer for Transport, Nigel Blackler, told the meeting that his Council had recently been awarded a 4-year PSO on the air route between London and Newquay, and the government had confirmed that it will provide funding.

He said they had to prove the route was unviable after Flybe announced last year that it was pulling out.

Diana reiterated that a PSO can’t be given on a route where there’s already an adequate service. But that led to calls for the Council to pursue a winter boat PSO because when the Scillonian service finishes in Autumn, there’s no way of travelling if it’s foggy.

Some attendees claimed that there isn’t a year-round boat service, as the Council had argued, because you cannot book the Gry Maritha. You can only travel on the cargo vessel at the Master’s discretion.

Marian Bennett of transport campaign group FRIST, speaking from the audience, “thanked” Ms Mompoloki for giving “all the reasons why it’s no-can-do when it comes to a subsidy.”

She accused the Council of making no effort to pursue revenue support for the route adding that she wished Scilly could express “the same feistiness” as the Scottish Islands.

Marian said the subsidised Islay ferry often runs with only 15 passengers in winter, but is considered a vital public service.

Avril Mumford asked about the potential for freight subsidy. Diana said councillors had already agreed to explore that.

James Francis felt that a subsidy for St Mary’s airport, rather than the operator, could be a way forward because it would reduce landing charges, which could be passed on to the passengers. But Diana said that would still require a PSO and would be regarded as state aid.

No decision on how to proceed was taken at the Council-convened meeting.

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