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Steamship Group offers to co-fund helicopter study

The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group has written a letter to Cornwall Council offering to co-fund a study into the relative merits of a helicopter operation from Land's End and Penzance.

Last night's meeting - photo by Penzance Heliport Ltd

The company's Chairman Andrew May wrote to Rob Nolan, the chair of Cornwall Council's Strategic Planning Committee, following last night’s packed public meeting in Penzance about the proposed heliport.

Read the full text of Andrew May's letter below:

Dear Rob,

Ref: Penzance Heliport application - offer to co-fund independent operational study

I am writing following last night’s spirited, and I must say equally split, public meeting about the proposed Penzance Heliport.

By our own reckoning there were 73 speakers, of which 29 spoke against the proposals and eight were neutral, slightly outnumbering the 36 that spoke in favour of the application.

I note also that Tom Gainey from The Cornishman and Cornwall Live is reporting this morning ( “Committee members will be aware that the meeting was far from one-sided and there are serious fears about what the return of helicopters, resilient or not, could have for local people and future generations.”

We would also reiterate our previous statements that Cornwall Council has a duty to local people and that the majority of the 36 who spoke in favour of the heliport application are residents of the Isles of Scilly who will be residing more than 40 miles from the heliport location.

The reason for my letter however is that I wish to reiterate formally to your Strategic Planning Committee my public offer for the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group to co-fund an independent operational study into the comparative merits of a heliport operation at Land’s End Airport, and the proposed sea-level operation at Penzance.

I make this suggestion for several reasons. As you and your committee members heard from a number of expert speakers last night, there is a considerable difference of opinion on whether a sea-level operation will actually make much difference in terms of flyable days in comparison to a technologically-enabled Land’s End Airport.

Our own data suggests that the advantage would be marginal at best, with just a handful of additional days’ flying per calendar year from Penzance. This margin will be lessened as our own investment in GPS landing technology comes fully on stream in early 2019 and (contrary to what was said by some last night) significantly improves resilience for both fixed wing and helicopter aircraft from Land’s End Airport.

A number of speakers, including two Penzance GPs, last night questioned whether such a marginal gain was worth the potential price in public health terms if a new heliport goes ahead in Penzance.

Much has also been made of historic weather data from the last 40 or 50 years of heliport operations from Penzance, but it’s impossible to draw any meaningful comparisons when so many of the safety parameters have changed in recent years.

Then there is the myriad of variables to consider such as the availability of divert airports, cloud cover, visual approach versus instrument approach - the list goes on.

We believe the only way for your members to make an informed decision when weighing these important matters is to equip them with impartial comparative data via an independent study.

The terms of reference would of course need to be agreed but we believe the study is something that could be jointly funded by ourselves and the heliport applicants, and perhaps commissioned by the Council, so no burden would fall on taxpayers.

Other issues have been raised by local residents about the veracity of the applicant’s acoustic study and fears over air pollution, and we have separately highlighted some concerns about the Council’s Habitat Regulations Assessments, but these matters would fall outside the scope of the proposed study, which would concentrate on weather and operations data.

We do firmly believe that Land’s End Airport can provide the additional resilience the Islands need, which is why we launched our Island Helicopters service from there in May. And contrary to some comments last night, we have committed to a three-year contract with our helicopter operator, so this is not a short-term ‘spoiler’ operation designed to see off competition.

But we recognise too that we must prove ourselves to a sceptical community and show that we can deliver against our promise of enhanced resilience and reliability, and that is what we are committed to doing.

Our other arguments have been well rehearsed about why we would prefer to see any helicopter operation – even in competition with our own services – operating out of Land’s End Airport. We are concerned about the impact a second heliport could have on the overall viability of the transport network to Scilly, and the ability of operators to continue to invest in it. Which is why we continue to offer Penzance Heliport’s backers the use of Land’s End Airport. That offer remains on the table.

I was very disappointed to see the Council of the Isles of Scilly paint such a partisan picture at last night’s meeting. Dismissing our services as “not fit for purpose” belies the fact that we carried almost 216,000 passengers last year - up 3% - more than 61,000 of whom travelled via Land’s End Airport, which has some 10,000 aircraft movements a year.

As we approach our 100th year of operation (in 2020), our commitment to the communities we serve is undimmed.

I hope your committee will consider seriously our suggestion of an independent study which I hope can assist members in reaching an informed decision.

As many at last night’s meeting made clear, there are a number of substantive outstanding issues in relation to this application which warrant further investigation.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew May Chairman, Isles of Scilly Steamship Group

#ISSC #heliport

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