Two letters printed in The Cornishman newspaper of Thursday 22nd February 2018 claim the proposed Isles of Scilly Steamship Company helicopter service from Land’s End are simply an attempt to “thwart any competition”.
The first letter, from David Ticehurst, argues the proposed Land’s End helicopter operation is simply “another spoiling attempt by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group to thwart the prospect of real competition.”
The letter describes the “sheer hypocrisy” of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company in proposing to set up its own helicopter service after vehemently opposing and obstructing the Penzance Heliport project.
The letter also calculates that the proposed service will not meet the passenger numbers previously quoted by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company for a helicopter service to “break even”.
The letter concludes: “Most passengers want choice and flexibility and not to be forced to travel to and from the islands with a monopoly provider which clearly puts the interests of its shareholders before those of the islands and the public.”
A second letter, from a resident of Brea Barn at Buryan, argues the actions of the Steamship Company “seem to be a ploy to try to block the Penzance service: possibly even to be the basis of an objection to the new planning application.”
The letter’s author also claims that the former Managing Director of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company stated openly that Land’s End Airport is not the ideal location for operating services to the islands.
“The only way the islands’ lot is going to improve will be with a Penzance-based service,” the letter concludes.
You can read both letters in in full below…
ISSG out to crush any challenge to monopoly
Whilst any improvement in the current transport arrangements to and from the Isles of Scilly is to be welcomed by islanders and visitors alike, for sheer hypocrisy the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, which is behind the recently announced new service from Land’s End, takes some beating.
When a consortium obtained planning permission for a new heliport at Penzance the ISSG sought to judicially review the decision of Cornwall Council. Mr May, the chairman of the ISSG, denied his company was frightened by the prospect of competition or anxious to maintain its monopoly on transport to the islands.
At the time Mr May stated, in documents widely circulated around the islands and referring to the plans new service from Penzance: “We fear there simply aren’t enough Scilly air passengers, even with market growth, to sustain two completely separate air operations… for the helicopter operation to attempt to break even it will need a minimum of 35,000 to 40,000 passengers.”
Mr May accused the promoters of the Penzance heliport scheme of being disingenuous about the Steamship Group, its actions and motives in order to further their own cause, and denied the judicial review was instituted solely to protect the interests of the ISSG. The actions of the ISSG were widely condemned at the time by many islanders and visitors.
ISSG now apparently plans eight flights a day carrying ten passengers on each flight. Eighty passengers a day will benefit the islands only marginally and should be seen for what it is: another spoiling attempt by the ISSG to thwart the prospect of real competition.
Having failed to see off competition by judicial review, as if by magic the ISSG now announces a new helicopter service starting in May of this year – a surprise, it seems, even to the Council of the Isles of Scilly who run the airport where Mr May hopes his helicopters will be able to land.
Mr May proclaims: “This gives visitors and islanders more choice over how they travel and makes the transport network more resilient, which is exactly what our customers say they want.” No, Mr May; most passengers want choice and flexibility and not to be forced to travel to and from the islands with a monopoly provider which clearly puts the interests of its shareholders before those of the islands and the public. Were that not the case, you would have welcomed the Penzance heliport project with open arms given that, to use your words, it “gives visitors and islanders more choice over how they travel and makes the transport network more resilient.”
Mr May and the ISSG would earn more respect were they to be open and honest and say that the ISSG’s actions are a direct response to the prospect of competition – competition I, for one, believe cannot come soon enough.”
– David Ticehurst, Winscombe, Somerset
Rotor service won’t help the islanders
The announcement by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company seems to be a ploy to try to block the Penzance service: possibly even to be the basis of an objection to the new planning application.
BIH, when it was owned by BEA, relocated to Penzance at the beginning of the 1960s because of the number of flights lost to weather in their first year of operation from Land’s End – I believe nearly 15%. Since then the frequency of fog seems to have increased. I am told that last year 25% of operating days were lost because of weather.
Jeff Marston, when MD of the IOSSC, told me that they would never have built an airfield near the coast, 400ft above sea level; they were only there because the airfield already existed when the service started.
BIH soon discovered Penzance gave it unique advantages: almost no weather days lost, on the doorstep of train and coach services, up to 30 minutes each way saved in summer for car users and easy access to the town for islanders’ hospital, business and social visits, none of which applied to Land’s End. When BIH considered relocating to Land’s End I objected, mainly because of the impact on this relatively tranquil area and its tourism economy. These modern helicopters seem little noisier than the Skybus Islanders, so that will not really be an issue, and I suspect there would not be a significant increase in daily flights.
On the other hand, I also suspect the IOSSC helicopters will not provide a significant increase in the islands’ travel security. They will still face the same operational difficulties as the fixed-wing services, and that is a major stumbling block to the expansion of Scilly’s staying visitor numbers; busy people cannot risk being marooned.
Unless there is a Penzance-based service the islands’ position is not likely to improve, for tourism, health support and business convenience.
IOSSC seem to think they will persuade up to 500 people per week to pay an extra £50 to travel from the same departure point to the same destination in about the same time, for the privilege of travelling in a helicopter. If they can’t, it is not beyond possibility that they’ll ration fixed-wing flights to force passengers to upgrade to the choppers, not a move that will help islanders or their visitors.
However, if the Penzance service is shelved, IOSSC will be hard-pressed to justify continuing to operate a higher-cost rotor service in competition with their own fixed-wing aircraft, and if that’s the case this new service is likely to disappear within a couple of years.
The only way the islands’ lot is going to improve will be with a Penzance-based service, and it’s to be hoped the planners recognise this reality when reviewing Mr Dorian-Smith’s [SIC] application.
– Tony White, Brea Barn
About Penzance Heliport
Penzance Heliport will reinstate genuine competition and real resilience to the Isles of Scilly transport market through helicopter flights from Penzance to St Mary’s and Tresco.
The location of the proposed site, adjacent to the previous heliport in Penzance, brings significant weather resilience benefits, as well as excellent transport links and amenities for islanders and visitors alike.
The project was granted unanimous planning consent by Cornwall Council in February 2017, which was then challenged by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company. A revised planning application was submitted in late 2017 and we expect this to be heard in spring 2018.
We anticipate a full helicopter service to St Mary’s and Tresco to be operational from Penzance Heliport by spring 2019.
How You Can Help
The best way for our supporters to help make the project a reality is by commenting on the planning application.
There’s plenty more information on how to make your comment on our dedicated page.