Over recent months, the debate over helicopter services to the Isles of Scilly has become increasingly bitter. We say it is time for this to stop, before the current situation damages the islands.

Robert Dorrien-SmithWe are not against the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, and never have been. The islands need a successful Steamship Company, but that is one focused on its core services.

If the Steamship Company is genuinely convinced that Island Helicopters is the service Scilly needs, they should drop their objections and let Penzance Heliport move forward, allowing the services to compete.

We are astounded that, with the ongoing situation with Island Helicopters, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company has felt it appropriate to lodge yet another objection to Penzance Heliport with Cornwall Council [The comment can be viewed on page 4 of the Consultee Comments tab on the Planning Application website.]

Besides many factually incorrect and presumptive statements, the assertion that Penzance Heliport is for the “benefit of an individual estate at the sacrifice of other islanders” is a disappointing attempt to damage the integrity of this project.

The Penzance Heliport project has been clear from the start: our aim is to make the Isles of Scilly a better place to live, work and visit – for all of the islands. We believe in growing the size of the market for all, not arguing over how to slice it up.

We hope the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company will listen to the views of islanders, visitors, businesses, our MP, the Minister for Transport and many other friends of Scilly and refocus its attention on its core services, on which these islands rely.

We believe in a strong, cohesive, resilient transport system for the Isles of Scilly. A vital part of this is the core Steamship Company services, and in particular the essential passenger and freight sea services on which the islands depend.

We firmly believe that Penzance Heliport has a key role in the future of transport to Scilly and must never forget that the helicopter services from Penzance since 1964 underpinned the economy of Scilly and enabled growth and resilience.

We would ask the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company to drop its objections to Penzance Heliport, refocus its attention on its core services, and make these services the best they can be.

We are eager to see a new era of cooperation and collaboration on the Isles of Scilly, where Penzance Heliport and the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company can work together to provide targeted investment that will ensure maximum resilience and growth for the islands and West Cornwall.

We believe this can best be achieved through strong passenger and freight sea services, a strong fixed wing air service, and a strong helicopter service from Penzance.

We remain absolutely committed to the Penzance Heliport project and the wider island transport system, and hope the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company will join us in a positive future for the islands.

Robert Dorrien-Smith

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17 Comments

Steve Waller · May 23, 2018 at 11:43 am

Visitors and islanders should benefit from a cooperative approach such as is mooted here. A beautiful destination such as this does not benefit in the slightest from big-business battles.

Malcolm David Rose · May 23, 2018 at 11:46 am

Perhaps you should undertake a freight service wonder what reaction that would be

    Roger Whitwam · May 24, 2018 at 2:22 am

    I used a Falmouth based company to transport very large amounts of freight in the 1980s. The company ceased trading because IOS Steamship Company successfully sodded up their business

David & Cath Blackburn · May 23, 2018 at 12:16 pm

Absolutely agree, have used Skybus, Scillonian and previous BIH for 30 years, room for all and a new Heliport close to Rail and town centre can only be good for all year round reliable air links. 👍

Peter Gildener · May 23, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Have looked on Council website but been unable to find IOSSC’s latest piece of malice (perhaps someone could email me the direct link) but am appalled that at the moment I have to debase myself by using their planes. I can only hope that the planners treat the objection with the contempt it deserves. I could go on but am so apoplectic that my fingers might type something I would subsequently regret but I am thinking all the same. It is quite clear that the IOSSC is determined to try to undermine RDS as much as personally possible. When we travel to Tresco in June I think I will stage a protest at the airport. Pity I’m not flying from Land’s End!

Brian & Lindsay Sandford · May 23, 2018 at 12:51 pm

What an elegant, well written ‘response’.

The current situation is so detrimental to our island home. Whilst the negative articles in the press will in time become wrappings for ‘fish & chips’ or land fill, in the meantime it reflects badly on all of us.
The Steamship Company comes across as ‘petty’ to say the very least. The directors seem to change their tune rather alarmingly and forget folk have long memories!

I was rather irked that the St Mary’s primary school children were invited to view the first chopper’s landing. These children are our future, they are not ‘pawns’ in some tacky little game – these are the same island children that would have loved to have witnessed the 40th Anniversary fireworks to celebrate the Scillonian III – a ship built to serve our islands, i’m sure that the many mainland children in the Mount’s Bay area with probably no connection to our islands will remember the celebrations for many years to come. Were the company hoping to recreate some of the same ‘magic’, from that rainy night a huge crowd of island residents spontaneously gathered at St Mary’s Airport to wave off the last flight?
Good Luck to Penzance Heliport – we as many here on Scilly will be delighted when you get your permissions.

    Terrie Brittain · May 23, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    At the same time, the children of Tresco School were gathered to look over 6 private helicopters at the Tresco Estate’s private landing pad. Was this just as tacky?

      Penzance Heliport · May 23, 2018 at 9:48 pm

      Hi Terrie – thanks for your comment. The children of Tresco and Bryher Primary School were not “gathered” to see the helicopters which landed at Tresco Heliport; the school, children and several parents asked if they could attend. This was not a “publicity stunt” as you are implying. Thanks for your comment.

      Peter Cranford · May 23, 2018 at 9:57 pm

      Some people have to turn everything into an argument don’t they? Obviously trolling on Facebook didn’t give you the reaction you wanted so you come and troll on the website instead? Penzance Heliport is trying to be positive and you’re still fighting. Get a life and actually check your facts before you go commenting on things you have no idea about.

Roger Seddon · May 23, 2018 at 1:18 pm

What a balanced and well written open letter. I find it so saddening , that yet again the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company are attempting to postpone or stop the proposed service from Penzance. How depressing to read their lengthy list of objections. They are attempting to maintain a monopoly, without concern for what is best for the residents, visitors and businesses of the Isles. Competition is important and people should be able to choose who they travel with. Personally after their recent antics there is no way I would travel with them. Awaiting the opening of the Penzance Service before we venture to the Isles . You will succeed in the end . You have considerable support.

Jonathan Sims · May 23, 2018 at 7:27 pm

I’ve used all services over the years, the previous helicopter service was the most reliable closely followed by the Scillonian. The fixed wing however suffered massively due to the limitations in poor weather that the aircraft cannot fly. Penzance is undoubtedly the best location for a helicopter. Penzance helicopter ltd has remained professional and fair with their proposed link. The isles of Scilly steamship company however have not which is a great shame. Mr May and board should withdraw their objections and work with Penzance heliport. Please listen to people Thank you

Elizabeth Firmin · May 23, 2018 at 8:48 pm

I do not see ANY need for a helicopter service from Land”s End. I was quite anxious today witnessing first hand the helicopter flying around Land’s End airport over the grass and runway whilst I was actually sitting in a Twin Otter waiting to take off. What if they’d collided? The only obvious choice is a helicopter service from Penzance with no planes to distract. I feel the Steamship company should concentrate on providing a new/replacement Scillonian ship. Very necessary.

Alison king · May 24, 2018 at 9:46 am

A well written, response to the steamship company, I agree also with most of Brian & Lindsey comment. We have to have a level playing field business plan to best serve all people wanting to travel to and from Scilly, without judgement and acrimony. Without fear of retribution of comment and support with both ventures. Where rules and environmental constraints are applicable to all, with honesty and clarity. The present situation has damaged all support for the steamship company leaving us all fearful that focusing on one area leaves us all potentially vulnerable. I am not taking sides, just taking the attitude that the present company helicopter supplier is expensive for the steamship company to maintain, and if the Penzance route fails we could be left with nothing if the costs of ‘charter’ flights does not gain the return the steamship company needs and they become financially unviable, we all need choice, an all year round affordable service of some description which also does not make the NHS go —- ‘what, how much, no way!’

Nick Davis · May 24, 2018 at 11:27 am

A distinct lack of leadership & governance is something that will come round to haunt the incumbent executive team at IOSSC in my humble opinion by starting this unnecessary helicopter service.

The Isle’s of Scilly like many areas of Cornwall require investment to improve connectivity and tourism.

At the most basic level of business acumen, the executive team have demonstrated a negligent and potentially financially ruinous capability to pursue what is in effect a vendetta of protectionism, when it should be focused on much more important and core issues particularly around seaborne capability to the islands in year-round weather.

As an experienced aircraft pilot operator, and sea captain I can assure everyone that “wet leasing” a helicopter for this operation is not remotely possible to be profitable – every element of the helicopter service needs to be bought in – the pilots x 2 plus standby crew availability, line maintenance engineering, accommodation for those, then we have the block hour cost which will be governed by hours flown/promised but more importantly how many cycles the engines will do (each time a turbine engine starts and stops is called a cycle) – this route has very high cycle time and very low flying time – however, to be able to operate an 8 seat AW139 in the UK in a salt water environment – you will not be getting any change at all from less than £2500 per hour ( this includes direct and indirect costs) – that’s ok I hear you say thats 4 trips per hour….. sorry NO as the block time for the route is 20 mins – so thats a total of 3 trips per hour and if the load factor is less than full – it does not really make money apart from a few weeks during the summer hols and at weekends, however when you add up the direct and indirect operating costs of the full season – it will be loss making!

But more importantly, why is everyone not making the blindingly obvious question loud and noticeable – they are cannibalising they’re own fixed-wing route – why on earth would you run a fixed wing plane and a helicopter on the same identical route. There is not one single business reason to undertake this and it will hurt them massively as they are yet to see!

By diluting the avg 95,000 air passengers per year between 2 types of service from the same airport to the same airport only achieves one outcome……….. Tadaaaa… Increased costs! for both services.

Guess who will have to pick up the tab for the increased cost of services when they lose their operating profit in a blink of an eye… Tadaaaa…. every islander and tourist that wants to use the service!

What will be the net effect of this fundamental negligence being displayed now? DISTRESS for the Islanders and businesses that need and require good governance and capable leadership that is focused and can protect the future for generations to come.

Bottom line is that the corporate risk register for IOSSC now has a very big red flag at the top of it – yes it may have £5 mill cash in hand at the bank and £10 mill in assets – however, they are just about to find out very quickly that this little stunt is going to eat them out of house and home and risk the very foundations they were meant to protect.

Celebrating with a party on board a vessel that is 40 years old without any mention of investment in a newly designed vessel that meets the needs of the businesses and tourism for the next 20 years is negligent. Remember it takes at least 12-24 months from the date of ordering a new vessel for it to be delivered and put into service. Buying yet more used vessels is not a winning formula for inward investment and efficiency.

The Islanders and shareholders should call an EGM and deliver a vote of no confidence in the executive team – it is very clear they are unfit to lead a critical transportation lifeline that the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall needs.

The executive team need reminding that they are caretakers, they are not majority shareholders that can expose the company to unnecessary financial and reputational risk.

Don’t wait for the “Black Swan” event before making noises about decision making – call them to account now!

I think it is important that the Islanders especially the businesses and tourism-related stakeholders fully engage and shape the long-term transportation needs of the Islands – the current decison making process is clearly out of kilter with whats needed.

All views my own, and I’m not an Islander just a lover of them for escapism and the natural beauty they behold! Please dont let these beautiful islands appear in the worlds press for the wrong reasons!

Nick Davis · May 24, 2018 at 1:06 pm

my error in regards to AW139 / 169 – IOSSC is operating the 169 which is a max 10 place aircraft – and only slightly cheaper in the operating costs both direct and indirect down to £2137 from £2500 for an offshore over water operation

tony white · May 25, 2018 at 6:39 pm

In the light of this measured response, I feel that some of the recent Cornishman letters opposing the Penzance helicopter service are a little disingenuous., particularly those regarding noise pollution and local support The service is planning to carry a maximum of 25% of the passengers BIH transported in their final year of operation in similar capacity aircraft. BIH high season schedule was less than 30 departures a day, which would indicate about 8-10 outgoing daily flights for the new service.

These new machines, which are significantly quieter than the old Sikorsky S61s have a sound footprint which means they are audible for about three minutes per landing or departure and they will not be hot refuelling or leaving their engines running between flights. Which means they’ll be audible for only a few minutes every hour, hardly a cause for the emotional stress which has been suggested.

And the comments about most of the supporters being from out of the area seems to be wide of the mark looking at the CC Planning site’s comment section. The majority that I’ve read, and people I’ve spoken to, appear to be local and for entirely understandable reasons.

The Scilly’s visitor numbers have tumbled in recent years partly as a result of the insecurity of the transport links, The Scillonian is not a happy experience in any sort of turbulent sea. Tony Jones, the last BIH MD, once told me that about 30% of his returning traffic was from Scillonian trippers who couldn’t face the return journey, and that the reliability of the air service from Penzance, where it suffered almost no weather related cancellations was a major reason for the passenger numbers BIH were able to attract on their outgoing flights. Lands End aerodrome, on the other hand reputedly lost nearly quarter of its flights to weather last year alone, and its recent passenger volumes seem to indicate that much of the BIH traffic has melted away

If transport reliability is a significant factor in protecting the Island’s future, and it seems it is, the recent decision by the IOSSC to set up their own helicopter service beggars belief. At a time that the company should be marshalling funds to replace the aging Scillonian they have, it is rumoured, committed nearly £2million over the next eighteen months to start a premium priced helicopter service that offers nothing meaningful to any traveller. I suspect none but the helicopter enthusiasts will be attracted, which means that any increase in passenger volumes is likely to be marginal. So the IOSSC will have added over £1million a year to their overheads for very little business benefit, other than the hope it could scupper Mr Dorrien Smith’s application. And this odd decision is compounded by the purchase of a cargo vessel that also appears unsuited to its market and harbour facilities; apparently another poorly judged investment .

Together they have taken money that will surely be needed for a replacement ferry, and if that is not available the Scilly’s position will be dire.

My old Gran used to have a phrase “ If you’re going to go broke , buy a horse” – an enjoy it while you may , thing. In the IOSSC’s case it seems she would say “Lease a helicopter”.

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