World’s longest running scheduled helicopter service closes

World’s longest running scheduled helicopter service closes

1-Nov-2012 Source:

It is with sadness we record the closure yesterday of the helicopter link between the UK mainland and the Scilly Isles, following the sale of Penzance Heliport to a retail supermarket as the site of a future store.

Scheduled services began on 1st May 1964 and have continued for forty eight and a half years, using Sikorsky S61 equipment throughout.  For many years the only destination from Penzance was St Mary’s on the largest of the Scilly Isle, but later they added the smaller island of Tresco, renown for its flowers.

The heliport consisted of a main helipad and hangar, plus a grass strip of 373m.  Its location close to Penzance railway station, and ample parking for cars made it an ideal base for both those taking a holiday on the islands, but also the residents there coming back to the mainland.  It has been sold to Sainsbury’s, who propose to redevelop the whole site as a new superstore.

The closure has resulted in the loss of 60 jobs, very difficult in an area so dependant on the seasonal tourist trade.

Various alternatives have been looked at and rejected.  British International had some plans to move to St Erth, a few miles east, on a site adjacent to the railway station there, but local residents complained about the noise implications and consigned hopes for the Scilly tourist trade to the trash.

The landlord of Tresco, Robert Dorrien-Smith, has lobbied the UK Government to support the helicopter link on the same “Public Service Obligation” basis as the Hebredean Islands off Scotland have a subsidised air service – but this has been declined.

Another option which fell by the wayside was a proposed buy-out of British International by Patriot Aerospace, but understands from sources in the industry that option was not followed through.

At least one other party is still looking at a new helicopter service, potentially utilising a “brown field” site such as a disused tin mine.

An option to fly from Land’s End Airport at St Just was rejected early on due to the airfield’s tendency to be closed by fog due to its height of around 120m above sea level – it was this very factor which took the service to Penzance, where the heliport is just 4m amsl, in the first place.

British International will continue to fly two S61s in the Falkland Islands on a military support lifting contract, and two Dauphins for the Flag Officer Sea Training unit of the Royal Navy.  The latter are based at Newquay after the closure of Plymouth.  We understand their other S61s previously associated with Penzance – three in all – will provide backup to other contracts or be sold.

In ICAO terms, this means the closure of EGHK.  The airfield at St Mary’s (EGHE) and the heliport at Tresco (EGHT) still exist but will not have scheduled helicopter traffic any more.  The IATA code PZE will also become redundant.

Air links to the island will continue to be maintained by Skybus using Islander and Twin Otter aircraft, operating mainly from Newquay but also from Exeter, Bristol and Southampton.  The same company also runs a daily boat service – the Scillonian – but that closes for five months during the winter – after this week it will not restart until 29th March 2013.

British International’s Managing Director Tony Jones declined to comment on the situation to when approached recently.

Jeremy Parkin –

Sainsbury’s plans:-

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