Council Hikes Airport Fees By 15% Although One Councillor Pushes For 37% Rise

airport runway 2015Councillors have voted to raise landing fees at St Mary’s Airport by 15% next year in a bid to bring the facility back into profit.

But Cllr Robert Dorrien-Smith, who chaired the meeting, described the increase as “unjustified” and said it would damage the islands’ tourist industry.

Councillors were warned that the airport still has a deficit of £51,000 and needs to put away at least £400,000 every year for future replacement of the runway and equipment.

But Cllr Dorrien-Smith, who owns Scilly’s largest tourist business Tresco Estate, said passenger figures, and therefore income, were already better than expected this year.

He said they could generate a surplus even with no changes to the current fees and he disputed the “simplistic” calculations about how much the airport needed to save.

Robert said councillors had the choice “to play safe, put up fees and potentially drive the market down” or “keep the fees as the are and rely on growth, a stronger economy and the activities of the Islands’ Partnership.”

But members of the committee were unsure over what would happen in September, when the Council hands back the lease on the airport to the Duchy.

Infrastructure Officer Craig Dryden said if the Duchy hadn’t found a new operator by that time, the Council would continue running the facility.

But he also admitted that officers had no influence on the choice of operator or how the airport would be run in the future.

Finance officers gave councillors a range of options from no increase in fees up to 37.6%.

Council Vice Chairman Steve Sims proposed going for the highest increase possible although other members of the committee didn’t support that.

The income from landing fees for each passenger at the airport is approximately £11, meaning Cllr Sims’ proposed 37.6% increase would be around £4.14.

He said that’s a “minimal” increase and “essentially the price of a cup of coffee” although Cllr Fraser Hicks asked Steve where he bought his coffee.

“That’s quite expensive,” said Fraser. “I think I’ll drink water.”

Cllr Sims maintained that the increase was small, adding, “it almost certainly won’t get passed onto the passenger and, if it does, it will be part of bigger fare increases that are probably coming up anyway.”

But Cllr Robert Dorrien-Smith felt raising fees by the highest level would be damaging for the islands.

Robert said, “the last man should turn the lights out if we go for 37%. There’ll be nothing left,” adding that it would, “simply drive the market out of existence.”

The sole operator at the airport, Skybus, came in for criticism from some councillors.

Council Chairman Amanda Martin said she would only feel comfortable with a price freeze, “if the operator would also freeze their fares.“

Amanda said, “I don’t believe that is, or would be, the case.”

And while Cllr Marian Bennett said she would, “love to see the lowest possible charge” she added, “at the end of the day it’s the fares that determine the numbers.”

She felt the increase, “won’t have the slightest impact on the fares charged.”

Marian said that Skybus “does not listen” and that the Council were not in control of the situation. “We’re held to ransom over the number of passengers coming,” she added.

Cllr Gaz O’Neill felt councillors were polarised between those who wanted big increases and those wanting minimal rises.

He proposed the “middle ground” of a 15% increase in landing fees.

But even that was too much for Cllr Dorrien-Smith, who said 15% was “unjustifiable.”

Robert said, “It’s going to damage our tourist industry, which is our main industry that keeps these islands alive. It is short sighted, based on false premise and these figures don’t justify it.”

He said costs had risen, “but if we keep piling the costs on here we are simply going to strangle our own market.”

But councillors rejected that argument. Five members voted in favour of a 15% increase while three voted against.

That will now go forward as a recommendation to Full Council next week, although there was confusion amongst some councillors about why that needed to happen.

Cllr Gaz O’Neill pointed out that the rules set for the Transport, Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee clearly stated that it “sets the fees and charges.”

But officers said that wasn’t the case, and Full Council had to give the final sign off for all budgetary decisions.

Last year, the Transport Committee recommended a 5% increase in landing fees and this was doubled to 10% by the Full Council.

35 Responses to Council Hikes Airport Fees By 15% Although One Councillor Pushes For 37% Rise

  1. Tomasina Cairns March 9, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Kevin ,” it was ever thus ” ! I am afraid nothing changes , just probably worsens over the years . My family were educated on Scilly during the 60s & 70s . After leaving for further education unfortunately they did not return due to lack of employment & housing . They own their own homes now ( as do I , since leaving the Islands , & no I didn’t have a property to sell ) but have been able to find well paid employment & opportunities that were & still are sadly lacking on Scilly . We still love the islands & always will consider it home but when children & grandchildren need support & the best opportunities for a happy , fulfilled life the islands have always had drawbacks because of their location & size . It seems to me the downside of island living has became worse not better in recent years . We don’t even contemplate a holiday now as the risk of flight disruption & inclement weather is so much worse over the past few years .
    I am sorry to say this but I can totally see why visitor numbers have fallen , reliability in travelling to & from the islands has been affected so adversely & with no backup from a sea crossing for 5/6 months of the year of course this will have a knock on effect year on year to visitor numbers . I understand why ISSco are getting such a negative feedback here but if they did decide to call it a day I don’t think there will be a queue of competitors waiting to take over from them . So ,again , be careful what you wish for , it could all become a lot worse , look what happened when Mr Hygate left !!!!!!!!

    • Stuart Moore March 9, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      People harking back to the days of Hygate are like the Russians who hark back to the days of Stalin. I for one was very glad to see the back of him, and what we have now might not be perfect but it is by far and away better than what we had.

      • Ewart Less March 10, 2016 at 12:18 am

        NOT PERFECT! Stuart you are the master of the understatement, the new lot are downright awful, hopeless, incompetent and much worse at running the council than ANY previous adminstration even you have got to admit that, you might otherwise try to argue night is day.

    • Nanny Ogg March 9, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      You have no idea about what you are talking about regarding the former CEO.

  2. Scillonian 4 March 9, 2016 at 8:17 am

    The main question for the steamship co is how and when the Scillonian III can be replaced. Having put so much money into the air operations, its not clear that they can replace the ferry now . When can we expect an announcent on this Rob?

  3. Jay March 8, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    No joke, the Secretary of State needs to step in here. Councillors acting like shareholders protecting their tourism investments, it’s not right. I shall be emailing the government and showing hem the video, it’s appalling.

    • Monsieur Droit March 9, 2016 at 8:55 am

      It is becoming glaringly obvious that through ignorance, inability and ineptitude our current council members and officers are just not up to the mark. There are serious and significant errors being made and routinely repeated. I recall the clamour and effort that went into removing a certain former chief; compared to the present crew of numpties he was a safe pair of hands.
      I bet he’s getting a laugh out of the Linguist’s antics now.????

  4. Mr hypocrite March 8, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Cllr Robert Dorrien-Smith felt raising fees by the highest level would be damaging for the islands…….Didn’t stop him from putting up his boat fees by a similar percentage last year though, did it!

    • James - Islander March 10, 2016 at 10:17 am

      I believe the difference there is that they spent a considerable sum of money replacing engines etc and I think (?) they are the only boat operator in the Scillys who operate every week of the year

  5. Kevin March 8, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Results of meeting just in…

    Big surprise, councillors in tourism industry back the fares not increasing, and tell Officers to invest in tourism and not energy! What.

    Maybe James, Fraser and Ted would like to go into schools and give a careers talk to the toddlers and tell them they can look forward to a career as a KP, a waiter, a campsite cleaner, or a boatman’s assistant, and nothing else, unless mummy or daddy are rich and can pass something to you.

    Islands parents should be absolutely fuming about this, your kids have just been betrayed by self-serving councillors with far too much personal interest in tourism than is healthy.


    • saltsolution March 8, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Maybe you could run some drama courses for them?

    • Rupert March 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Do get real NASA isn’t going to set up on our Islands and the DOT isn’t going to use Scilly as a testbed for unmanned HGV’s. A bouyant local economy based on what is plausible and achievable could help to provide the educational advantage that has seen many of those who have grown up on the Islands in the past go on to achieve great things.

    • Monsieur Droit March 8, 2016 at 11:26 pm

      The ideal career opportunity may not always be available on the Islands Kevin but most living here work at what ever they can and make the best of it rather than be seen to be idle which is commendable as I am sure you would agree.

  6. Peter March 7, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    I’ve repeated ad nauseam here over the years that the only solution is to lengthen the runway(s). I get ridiculed for this, despite providing evidence, though an amateur, that people in the know, and the council, have seriously considered it. Only Twin Otters and Islander planes can land on the short runway at St Mary’s. Not many other airlines operate Twin Otters, and I don’t think they will go out and buy them just for Scilly. Also, with only room for 19 passengers, they are not very profitable. Of course, the IoSSCo are going to resist runway lengthening as that would open the market for competitors. A longer runway would mean larger planes (not jets, but maybe 50 seater turbo props) and thus open the market for flights from further afield, thus (a) driving down costs by the effects of competition and (b) increasing visitor numbers from the wider catchment area. The runway would need to be on stilts, and either on an extension out to sea, or, as one pilot suggested, over the bay to the Loaded Camel, so as to reduce cancellations by having a runway better aligned to prevailing winds. This suggestion, of course, drew howls of outrage at destroying the beauty of Scilly. Fine, have it beautiful… and uninhabited through the death of your only industry. However, none of this will happen because Ye Olde Duchy wants Scilly preserved in aspic. So the funding for this is irrelevant really, but you’d need a massive grant. St Helena, a British Overseas Territory with a population of 4200, has just built a new airport, with massive natural geographical obstacles, at a cost of £202 million, funded by the Department for International Development. But, as another contributor recently said, our government has to see that Scilly is worth investing in, and, frankly, it isn’t, unless the council ups its game by a hundredfold.

    All this antagonistic talk of raising landing fees and to hell with the IoSSCo runs the risk of them pulling the plug. They are a private company and they might – unlikely, but possible, say “sod it, we’re pulling out” (BIH did) and then you are utterly stuffed. Be careful what you wish for.

    • Newbie Noobs March 8, 2016 at 8:00 am

      The Iossco are not going to leave here, they are making too much money out of everyone!

    • Adam Morton, St.Martins March 8, 2016 at 10:18 am

      Why do you think they are investing in other property & businesses instead of their shipping line? I can’t argue with their business strategy but it puts us in an untenable position. This sort of thing didn’t happen when lots of island businesses owned the company. It was much the same as the airport is today, for someone to make a profit , someone else has to make a loss. At some point we are better off if they do pull out because then the rout would be eligible for assistance. Question is , are more people hurt by the SScos demise or if they stay? I guess that’s the tipping point . If the supporting economy can’t function then there are no passengers but it will always hover along the edge of viability. A drop in numbers next year will see prices stabilise and a few more businesses close so the remainder can take up the slack and so on but we will never get a balance which is what IPs roll should have been.
      Two options left now really, a 51+% share issue by the SSco to fund a new ship and allow locals to put their money where their mouth is or a new company . It wont happen for two reasons 1 no one will put their hands in their pocket and 2 the company has put their prices up so there are more retained profits to do the same thing and keep their stock sky high.

    • Mark Prebble March 8, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      The new runway on St Helena is being in funded in part by the military to provide a comprehensive and strategic refuelling point for long range bombers. The costs of the environmental destruction and social disruption caused by this project have yet to be counted. Not forgetting that some families on St Helena are shareholders in relevant companies and some families are not. The issue has divided the island and what was once a peaceful place will soon be subject to budget airline day trips as well as an increased presence of military forces.

      • Peter March 8, 2016 at 6:26 pm

        Mark: yes, quite: that’s my point about the government needing to see a purpose in Scilly before you can expect funding. St Helena has a purpose. And yes, there may be destruction, but at least it remains a populated place, whereas Scilly will be uninhabited rocks in 30 years without an industry or a purpose.

        • hugh towner March 8, 2016 at 7:33 pm

          I will be living on Scilly in 20 years even if I have to sail to Penzance to get supplies once a month.

  7. Adam Morton, St.Martins March 7, 2016 at 9:16 am

    I agree we end up paying one way or another whether through loss of income or fares , what I would like to see is some indication that those involved are doing their bit in ensuring that costs are as low as they reasonably can be and show we are all doing our best.
    The EGNOS system was held up as an answer to our “resilience” problems by our Council despite being told that it wouldnt work . They also added in a substantial terminal redevelopment of their own volition at a time when we frankly cannot afford it. Somehow they achieved a large overspend which is poor given the money spent on consultants etc. There was every indication that the EGNOS wouldn’t be commissioned by the CAA and even if it is, then the difference it will make would appear to be negligible. Are we to trust that any other aspect is any less ill advised than this one ?
    As far as I was aware we experienced a 40% odd decline in visitor numbers since 2002. Part of which caused the demise of BIH. Mainly because Scilly was uncompetitive in everything from value for money, marketing and standards which has always been the case because it costs more in transport. Without being 20-40% more expensive than the mainland we cannot run normal business models , now we have the internet competitiveness becomes pretty obvious to the customers. The only way we get numbers back is being competitive on pricing, the only way we are competitive is providing services at cost or less . Without the visitors there is no transport system for anyone and certainly not at travel club rates! Most Scilly tourism businesses have seen almost no rise in what they can charge for a decade at least . Finally last year we started hearing unsubstantiated rumours that the decline was halted and almost starting to reverse at which point the company which remained profitable throughout , saw fit to bring in substantial price hikes which means it was all for nothing! Visitors have a budget, If one aspect of their holiday gets a disproportionate rise then the others will have to take the loss! If the entire budgets gone on travel and accommodation, it’s not much good to the rest of us!

  8. St Just-Saying March 5, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    The Council should charge the full operating costs of the airport on to Skybus and add a 20% margin because Skybus have no choice but to pay. Rob will understand that it’s just what you do when you are the only supplier

    • Just me March 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      Quite correct no one else uses the airport Skybus must pay the lot
      But then again isent Skybus taking over the airport or is that all up in the air
      If Skybus dosent pay the lot then that’s them being sudsidised can’t be having that can we
      One way or the other we have to pay

    • Stuart Moore March 6, 2016 at 11:38 pm

      Very nicely put.

  9. David Townend March 5, 2016 at 10:13 am

    A typical short sighted view from some of our councillors. Increasing landing charges is not the answer, holding the cost of flights down is. A 15% increase in landing fees is unjustifiable as Robert argued. I hope the full council see sense and half the 15% voted for and not do as they did last year.

    • A Grieved March 5, 2016 at 10:50 am

      I should set up a petition to get the charges halved, see how well the Islands have fared since you helped things along last time.

    • Mike March 7, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Every single trend points to tourism numbers going down on Scilly.

      Getting tourists back to the islands in the sort of numbers that would generate a surplus to pay for runways in 20 years time would require a huge upsurge. But, BUT, BUT…tourists aren’t going to come back to Scilly in those numbers just because the fares stay the same price. All a freeze can possibly achieve is stabilise those numbers.

      If you want more tourists to come to Scilly it has to be a combined effort between the Council, the Duchy, the IOSSCO, and all hotel and guest house and restaurant and pub owners to lower costs across the board.

      STOP moaning about the Council trying to put money aside for the runway. If you continue to charge upto £1000 a week for accomodation, and £4 a pint, and £10 for a burger and chips, then you’ve got no room to complain, at all.

      There’s no strategy for tourism, and yet people are surprised to see it failing? If tourism is to succeed then it needs to be a year-round experience, not just creaming the summer season. If the tourist season extended all year then, guess what, there is a case to have better transport links in the winter. The private sector drives the demand for travel, and the public get to benefit from that.

      But what I see is all parties sat in their own castles (in Robert’s case, literally), and looking after their own interests.

      Airport fees are not the deal-breaker here. £4 on top of a flight is still less than the £5 Newquay tax, I think people would not mind paying an additional £5 on a flight, it’s not as if people fly every week, it’s a little extra on top of what is an already extraordinarily expensive fare, and from my perspective as a lowly paid worker on the islands, I don’t mind paying the extra. £5 is not going to deter tourists, just as no increase is not going to stimulate a declining market into some frantic growth.

      Everyone involved in the tourist game wants something for nothing, they think they’re owed this living and it’s the Council’s job to keep them living comfortably. So many of these people suck the money out and invest nothing back. Look at the hotels, bringing in cheap labour from the mainland, housing them in basic conditions for the season, and then when they get pregnant they become the Council’s ‘problem’. The hotels then move onto the next low-paid singleton.

      Personally, as a local, I’m sick of the merry-go-round here, it’s a ride that the poor cannot get on anymore, it’s an exclusive club for the wealthy to get wealthier at the expense of the poorest, at the expense of the state. And here they are, moaning about a slight increase in fees/fares because it might affect their profit/loss margin. Sod your P/L margin, I want an airport here in 20 years so I can fly to the mainland and get medical treatment for cancer, you selfish monsters.

      It’s imperative the councillors make the responsible decision tomorrow, and not base our futures on a premise that is only marginally affected (if at all) by a £4 increase in a fare. If the tourist industry is serious about improving numbers then they have to earn a reduction in fares by making the first move and the IP demanding that members lower their prices across the board by 10%, and a move towards year-round tourism.

      • Adam Morton, St.Martins March 7, 2016 at 1:49 pm

        So you reckon all those pubs, hotels & cafes that went bankrupt or closed ,did so because they couldn’t think what to do with the HUGE profits ?
        For starters the bill for running St.Marys airport is about 1.2 million divided among 90000 passengers which is closer to £13 a head!
        Unfortunately I have no experience of holiday rentals because the planning system won’t allow me , courtesy of the Council! The catering industry has a formula for reaching prices which is generally 1/3 cost of food, 1/3 on overheads (eg rent rates, electric insurance) and 1/3 to pay staffing costs . any profit is in the staff wages the owners save by working themselves. You can’t have it both ways, whinge about the cost of the grub and then whinge about the low wages! You do the maths!Then wait for the smart ar** to come in and point out they can get a coke for a third of the price in the COOP!
        If you are an employee you are comparatively well paid and protected by minimum wage law. Take into your equation that not only is the food 30% more expensive in the first place but that every other engineer, electrician, builder & service you require to operate is also more for the same reason.Add in to this also that there is no permanent staff because even the luxury of minimum wage won’t support a Duchy rent so you are down to students camping or in sheds and only here for six weeks.
        I agree that letting gets a far better deal but that’s not to say it’s good, you try saving up half a million pounds for a house and then decide what return you want on it , What’s that work out per week over 20 weeks or so?Don’t forget the waste disposal & rent and to pay the cleaners a good wage! I know a hotel that was letting rooms at £50 a night last summer and luxury holiday apartments at barely enough to cover the all inclusive flights & boat transfers let alone the laundry! A brewery rep told me that many of the pubs he visited were actually selling beer at BELOW mainland prices when we are paying 30p a pint in freight! Yes the Council will be a target because people see a man on a 100k salary making their lives more difficult , fair or not it’s the way of things!

        • Mike March 7, 2016 at 5:18 pm

          So what’s the answer? Keep fares the same and everything will magic itself back into a healthy state? Even if you reduced the fares by £10 a journey it’s still nothing, and yet it’s a huge deal to the viability of the airport.

          I think in order to get the sort of numbers that RDS is talking about, we need to be hitting 150,000 tourists per year, and that just isn’t possible based on a pound saving here and there on flights during the summer.

          Either the tourist ‘season’ turns into a full year-round sector, or cheap package deals are offered to tourists. But the same problem would happen then, where everywhere is full-up and the prices creep up as a result, and within 2 years we’d be back to square 1.

          OR….the islands stops this over-reliance on tourism and moves towards an income that isn’t 95% based on tourists, and this is why the Smart islands project comes in. It’s not just about gimmicks, it’s about generating local jobs in an industry that offers year-round work.

        • Adam Morton, St.Martins March 8, 2016 at 9:48 am

          Mike, to be totally frank , I don’t know any more because whatever is done now will be too late! My point is that this “smart islands project” won’t help the people already here and the skills set available. In reality there might be a couple of jobs created for imported engineers until some of our youngsters go away and get qualified but this £4m investment isn’t going to provide a very good return on that basis.
          I never thought the answer did lay in the airport to which end its not worth investing much in it. The costs will slowly rise until tourism is destroyed . Extending the runway or helicopters wont change that, the scales are too small. I don’t like the reliance on tourism either but what the Council is doing doesn’t change that , it makes it harder. We need to open up other real opportunities for people here to diversifie using their own initiative not some grant agency man’s insight who hasn’t lived here and never had to balance the books. If the Council overspends they simply charge us, if we overspend , we’re bankrupt!

          We have a disproportionately aging population, we need more younger people here to work and provide the services for that we need, more housing indexed to the value of the economy not to the retirement home market. Part of that is linked to build costs and living costs, all of which are uneconomical. I know its a joke to everyone else but the tax base we have here is small enough, I feel that the only way we will survive long term is putting every spare penny towards tackling these costs which form the basis of our lack of competitiveness ie subsidizing freight. This not only lowers build costs but living costs across the board to benefit everyone equally and more importantly open up opportunities in manufacturing, food production etc etc. Building a few social houses or some workshops etc only directly benefits the recipients and put everyone else at a disadvantage. The Council are going about everything backwards and once they have made an investment they give it no chance of survival because the conditions are unchanged. Every subsequent move they make becomes harder because they did it in the wrong order. We need to remember that these people making our decisions aren’t islanders, they are here for a wage and when the moneys gone, they go and we are left with nothing. It simply doesn’t matter to them if it doesn’t work. There are no targets, no heads will roll for failure.

      • Pete March 7, 2016 at 4:53 pm

        Mike. One proprietor told me some time ago. Why should I work for more than 6 months, when I can earn enough to keep me for 12 months. Plus a nice boat and a month’s holiday in Tenerife during the winter.

  10. Yankee March 4, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    I’m no economist but surely increased landing fees results in fewer passengers due to the exorbitant costs of air travel. Less passengers, less revenue for the future and the downward spiral continues……

  11. John Allsop March 2, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    As the older visitors who have been coming for years can no longer make the trip will younger ones replace them, i doubt it. Look at the cost for a family of four to get over.If it,s cheaper and more convenient to go to the continent that,s where they will go.

  12. Adam Morton, St.Martins March 2, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    A squabble between accommodation owners and the SSco over who gets the biggest share of profit from the visitor trade, everyone else is so low down the pecking order its not worth bothering about.

  13. Biggles Dog March 2, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    Perhaps we could ask the RED ARROWS for a contribution, when they are over here for the August Bank Holiday. That should be fun on the busiest flying day of the year.

  14. Barbara Hunter March 2, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    I hope someone is looking at reinstating flights from Bristol as an alternative to the long journey down to Exeter. This would attract visitors to Scilly from a wider area.