Scilly residents angry as local helicopter service to mainland closes


The curtain will today fall on five decades of a helicopter service linking the Cornish mainland with Scilly as the final commercial flight with British International Helicopters (BIH) leaves the islands.

BIH announced in August plans to close its domestic helicopter passenger route between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, from November 1.

Managing director Tony Jones said: "The route has run for 49 years so this is an extremely sad announcement for BIH, its employees and its customers - in fact the whole of west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Unfortunately we had no alternative."

The company said the decision was made due to a drop in passenger numbers and commercial reasons. Around 50 people have been made redundant as a result of the closure.

It means the archipelago will be left with Skybus plane flights six days a week, and the seasonal Scillonian ferry service - both run by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group.

Some residents described the move as "a kick in the teeth", while others voiced concerns that Steamship Group would take advantage of the monopoly on access to Scilly by hiking up prices.

Alasdair Moore, editor of the Tresco Times newspaper on one of the islands, said: "Yes, on the one hand it is very sad for those staff who have given excellent service to the people of Scilly, Penzance, and tourists.

"But there can be a silver lining from this. There is a genuine possibility to fully streamline and hone the transport to and from the islands."

Isles of Scilly Steamship Group chief executive Jeff Marston said: "We are sad to see the helicopter go after almost 50 years of service during which time we have worked alongside one another in friendly competition, and understand the apprehension that the loss of the service has created among some people.

"But we would like to reassure everyone that we will continue to offer fixed wing and sea freight services year-round and our seasonal passenger ferry service, and are continuing to invest to ensure that we meet the needs of islanders and visitors alike for many years to come."

The final BIH flight from Penzance will leave for Scilly at 5.05pm today, returning to the Cornish mainland from the islands at 5.50pm.