Councillor Says ‘We Are Idiots’ Over Airport Finances

airport nov 2014A St Mary’s councillor has said the year-on-year freeze on airport charges is approaching “criminal negligence” and has called for landing fees to be increased.

Cllr Steve Sims was speaking at last week’s Transport Committee meeting, where members were told by Airport Manager Howard Cole that there was a £75,000 shortfall in this year’s airport budget due to lower than expected passenger numbers.

Councillors voted to freeze airport charges last February rather than raise them as recommended by officers, saying the original prediction for around 90,000 passengers this year was too low.

They revised that up to 93,000, meaning the budget could break even without an increase in fees.

But at the meeting, Howard told them that the original estimate was correct with around 90,500 passengers expected to have travelled by the end of the financial year in March.

While that’s still an increase of 4,000 on the previous year, it’s not enough to fill the hole in the budget.

Cllr Sims said the message the Council had sent to people was, “we are idiots.”

He called for an increase in landing fees this year, adding that a 1% rise corresponded to just 0.1% on the ticket price.

He felt that Skybus was unlikely to pass that on to customers, particularly as fuel prices were expected to be low for at least another 18 months.

But Cllr James Francis cautioned against any increase. He said last year, for the first time in twenty years, the Scillonian carried more passengers than the aircraft and the reason is “that it’s cheaper.”

Howard explained that air passenger numbers this year were affected by disruption at Land’s End Airport, where a new hard-surfaced runway was installed, as well as two weeks of fog in September.

And Cllr Richard McCarthy pointed out that having a new full-time air traffic controller, instead of agency staff, could easily save up to £45,000 a year.

Councillors won’t have to make a decision on airport fees until the next Transport Meeting in the spring.

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