The proposed new heliport at Penzance on the south-west tip of the UK is currently on hold, and thus the restarting of scheduled flights with AW139 equipment to the Isles of Scilly will also have a delayed start. The pause has been in place since the parent company of Skybus – the fixed wing competitor on the route – have launched a judicial review into the way the planning process was handled. While Cornwall Council have officially approved the plans, they are on hold until the judicial review has been completed.
Skybus flies DHC-6 Twin Otters and BN-2 Islanders to the islands, and is owned by Isles of Scilly Steamship Company (ISSC). This company also owns the only passenger boat and the only cargo boat offering services between the mainland and the Isle of Scilly. Since the last helicopter service ceased in October 2012, ISSC has had a monopoly on all transport to the islands, so it’s unsurprising that they are taking the potential arrival of a competitor rather seriously. At this point their passenger totals are around 98,000 per annum from numbers they provided in documentation. Looking at the official CAA data for 1990 to 2011 (last full year of old heliport), this shows the two island destinations of St Marys and Tresco having a combined air passengers (fixed and rotary wing) of between 118,000 and 188,000.
In one document, Skybus refers to “the helicopter failure in 2012” while ignoring the reality of the previous owner chosing to sell the heliport to a supermarket chain to precipitate his retirement. There was no “failure” as far as HeliHub.com can see in the history books.
The plans for the new Heliport have enjoyed unprecedented support. The planning application had just 27 objections out of 2682 responses, with three Skybus/ISSC documents counting as three out of 27 not one. No planning application in the history of Cornwall Council has attracted this much support.
ISSC Chairman Andrew May is quoted by the local Falmouth Packet newspaper saying “We have mounted this legal challenge because we consider that Cornwall Council’s decision was flawed in its assessment of Penzance heliport in a number of important areas. We are not against a helicopter operation and do not have a ‘monopoly’ in transport services as is claimed, the market is open to any operator wishing to operate sea or air services to the Isles. Our primary concern relates to the serious socio-economic consequences of creating a new heliport and the effect the proposal will have on the long term sustainability of the wider transport network and future investment in it, including a replacement for the Scillonian III ferry.”. By referring to “the future investment in … a replacement for the(ir) … ferry”, they make it clear that they expect a financial impact if the heliport operation goes ahead. Whatever happened to competition?
Additionally, ISSC offered in one of their representation documents for the helicopter operation to use their Land’s End Airport as a potential base, but failed to point out that not only does this airfield has one of the worst fog records in the country, but ISSC would be in control of landing fees as they operate the airfield.
The whole situation looks more like a last ditch attempt to block a potential competitor by a company holding a monopoly.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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