MP backs campaign for a subsidised air link to Scilly
A SCILLONIAN transport campaigner and west Cornwall's MP have lobbied a government minister in a bid to get subsidised transport to and from the isles.
Marian Bennett, a co-ordinator for FRIST (Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport) and Andrew George met Minister of State for Transport Baroness Kramer last week as figures show a steep rise in the cost of getting to and from the islands.
Specifically Mr George was asking for information about how the Isles of Scilly can get government support for its transport links in the form of a Public Service Obligation (PSO), which could subsidise the resumption of a helicopter service.
There are currently 20 PSO-supported air services in the UK – 19 of them in Scotland and several maritime PSOs, again all of them operating in Scotland.
Mr George said: "What is very clear is that during the winter months the Isles of Scilly cannot carry on as they have done.
"They need greater security and a more resilient and more affordable service, and a PSO might provide encouragement for a helicopter operator to take on the service."
Mr George has received advice about applying for a PSO from Baroness Kramer but ruled out getting an application in motion until after negotiations for a planned PSO between Newquay and Gatwick had taken place.
"I would hope that we might be in a position to submit an application by early summer and we might know whether we have been successful by the end of the year with the possibility that we might see the resumption of a helicopter service by the spring of 2015," he added.
A report commissioned by FRIST has revealed that in 2014 fares to and from Scilly, both on the Scillonian and Skybus, have increased by up to 27.5 per cent since 2012.
This year alone Scillonian fares rise from £42 to £49 (average plus 12.6 per cent) each way for an open single ticket on its once-a-day service from March to October.
And Skybus fares have risen from £70 to £80 (plus 14 per cent) each way for an open ticket from Land's End to Scilly and from £100 to £127.50 for flights to and from Exeter.
FRIST say that various factors have contributed to these increases including a rise in landing fees and a significant investment by the Steamship Company in both expanding the capacity of the air routes following the loss of BIH with a new terminal completed at Land's End airport and the hard runway surface due to be completed in March as well as a major refurbishment of Scillonian in 2012-13.
The IOS Council transport preference survey conducted last summer found that a principal reason for a drop in visitors was the high level of fares.
Mrs Bennett says: "The economy of Scilly, dependent as it is on tourism, is not sustainable in its present form unless there is a substantial reduction in fares.
"This can only be achieved with government revenue support."