Landing Fee Increase Is ‘Totally Unacceptable’ Says Steamship Company Chief Exec

Steamship Group Chief Executive Rob Goldsmith

Steamship Group Chief Executive Rob Goldsmith

The Chief Executive of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company says a proposed 15% increase in landing fees at St Mary’s Airport is, “totally unacceptable.”

Rob Goldsmith has issued his statement following the Council’s Transport, Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee meeting yesterday, where councillors voted to recommend a 15% rise in landing fees.

That would add around £150,000 to the Steamship Company’s annual bill for using the airport.

Council Vice Chairman Steve Sims had proposed an even greater increase of 37.6%, but that was not supported by the Committee.

Mr Goldsmith said: “The Council has not been in touch with us to discuss this matter despite our repeated requests but we have heard that it will go to a vote for all members next week.”

He says the recommendation for a 15% increase comes on top of 10% last year, which the Steamship Company absorbed within their fares, and a total of 35% over the past three years.

“If this goes ahead, we would find this level of increase to be totally unacceptable and we will have to consider our options very carefully,” warns Mr Goldsmith.

Rob also criticised “a variety of other new charges” which he said were being introduced, such as on Sundays, which “would discourage us from trying to do the right thing to repatriate stranded passengers.”

Rob says, “We all need a safe airport which can fund its future needs but the financial projections have to be based on realistic assumptions or we will simply undermine the very market upon which its future viability depends.”

At yesterday’s meeting, Cllr Marian Bennett criticised the company, saying the operator “does not listen.”

But Mr Goldsmith says the Council has, “refused any form of consultation or engagement with us as the only commercial customer at the Airport.”

And he questions the Council’s financial management of the facility.

“We find it staggering that it can contemplate this level of increase if it claims its finances are being managed properly in the current low inflation environment.

Rob says the Council “is aiming to pass on the significant overspend in the Airport’s project costs to customers.”

But he adds there is no clarity about whether the charges would be adjusted back downwards if it’s successful in gaining additional grant assistance, as is hoped.

Mr Goldsmith goes on to say: “There seems to be a “blank cheque” mentality from the Council in regard to running the Airport without any sense of responsibility for its damaging impact on customers or the visitor economy.”

And he says even before these proposed increases, St Mary’s Airport charges were already amongst the highest in the country.

At almost 15% of the standard Land’s End ticket price, he says they represent “a completely disproportionate amount.”

“This is a massively higher proportion of the ticket price than airport fees constitute for any other domestic or international air fares and represents a serious impediment to trying to encourage further growth or new routes,” says Mr Goldsmith.

Rob says the Steamship Company is seeking “a much better partnership with the Council in ensuring that the Airport is viable in the future and we want to avoid conflict.”

He says the company would “invite and welcome a thorough dialogue to ensure that St Mary’s Airport charges are set using more realistic assumptions so that we can all avoid the vicious circle of damaging visitor demand and wider economic activity. “

Mr Goldsmith says the Company wants a “much more sophisticated approach” to ensure there is an incentive to increase the market, which he says would clearly benefit the Airport significantly.

“This type of arrangement is common-place at airports all around Europe but it is not something that can be done as a last-minute knee jerk reaction and it needs careful consideration with appropriate time to reach a mutually satisfactory outcome.”

Councillors are set to vote on the recommended increase in landing fees at next week’s Full Council.

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

That will not be possible this year. Under new rules, only the TEDI Committee can actually set fees for the airport and any changes will have to go back to that committee for approval.

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