Decision By Christmas On New Helicopter Route To Scilly Says MP

MP Andrew George with Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin

MP Andrew George with Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin

The islands’ MP, Andrew George, says we’ll know by Christmas whether a new commercial helicopter service to Scilly is likely to go ahead.

This follows his meeting with Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin during his two-day visit to Scilly and Cornwall last week.

Andrew had discussion with the Minister about a possible Public Service Obligation on the route, which could lead to public money being used to subsidise the operation.

He says it wasn’t a request for support at this stage, because it’s still not clear whether that will be needed. But he said he wanted to bring the Minister “up to speed” on the helicopter plans, so if a PSO is needed, his department will be able to move quickly.

Skybus are already serving the route without a subsidy, and Land’s End airport has just had hard surfaced runways installed, partly funded by public money.

But Andrew says not everyone is persuaded that the fixed wing aircraft are as reliable as a rotary service. He says poor visibility will still affect planes, particularly over winter and passengers with reduced mobility can struggle to use them.

Helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland is offering two 14-seater AW189 aircraft to operators keen to run the service.

There’s a meeting at the end of September bringing together the main stakeholders in the helicopter project, including potential operators. Bristow, Bond and CHC are among those believed to be in discussions.

Andrew says at least one of the interested companies has said they won’t come to the table without the option of a public subsidy on the route.

He admits that Scilly has received large sums of money for improving transport infrastructure, particularly after the £10m package announced by the Minister last week. But he says the islands shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for more if it provides the services that are required.

Mr George says “all the ingredients are there” for the return of a helicopter service, and it now has to be a commercial decision about whether it’s possible to proceed.

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