1. ITV Report

Helicopter service to the Scillies is 'vital' says former pilot

If a helicopter service is restored an Augusta Westland 139 will be used. Photo: ITV West Country

A former pilot has told ITV News West Country it's vital a helicopter passenger service is restored to the Isles of Scilly.

The helicopter stopped running from Penzance to the Scillies in 2012.

Jim Blane, who flew the route for several years says there is still demand for the service despite plane and ship routes.

Plans for a new service have been delayed after a shipping company launched a legal challenge.

The 'Skybus' and ship have taken over the role of transporting passengers. Credit: ITV West Country

According to Mr Blane, the public would definitely use the helicopter if it were reinstated.

He says when he was flying he used to carry thousands of passengers.

The helicopter that's being proposed, the capacity would give it about 50,000 a year.

We used to carry over 100,000 passengers a year on the helicopter round about the year 2000 and even at its poorest time we were still carrying 70,000 passengers out of Penzance.

– Jim Blane

Mr Blane believes that passengers in Penzance need a local transport link to the Scillies.

The Skybus and ship services are run by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company from its Land's End base.

Mr Blane says as well as convenience, the decline in passenger numbers since 2012 is because people prefer the comfort of riding in a helicopter.

The number of visitors to the Scillies dropped by about 30% when the helicopter service ended. Some of those passengers have never come back again to travel on the ship or by the Skybus. Many of them will fly by helicopter.

– Jim Blane

Plans to bring back the service with a new heliport have been delayed after The IoS Steamship Company asked for a judicial review of the planning permission.

This means a high court judge will review Cornwall Council's decision to award permission.

The IoS Steamship Company says a better location for a helicopter service would be at the company's Land's End premises.

Mr Blane says this is an attempt to control the local market.

To me it's just a delaying tactic. They have a monopoly, they can do what they like as far as transport is concerned but they are preventing anyone else coming into the market.

– Jim Blane
Mr Blane flew the route for several years. Credit: ITV West Country

The steamship company says it has invested twelve million pounds since the helicopter service ended but doesn't believe there are enough passengers to justify a new one at Penzance.

Fifty thousand extra passengers is actually worth fifty per cent growth in the current air market so it's a case of what's sustainable so we don't believe that's sustainable any time in the near future but what we do need is a joined up vision for Scilly as a whole as a visitor destination and a plan that we can all get behind.

With the improvements of technology we are making at Land's End and its other natural operating benefits we believe that Land's End is actually the best possible place to give the best possible chance for a new viable, sustainable helicopter service for Scilly.

– Isles of Scilly Steamship Company