The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group has confirmed plans to launch a new helicopter link from Land’s End Airport to the Isles of Scilly this May. The service will fly up to eight times daily under the Island Helicopters brand using a ten-seat AgustaWestland AW169 operated by Gloucester-based Specialist Aviation Services (SAS).
Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, Andrew May remarked: “We’re thrilled to welcome Island Helicopters to Land’s End Airport and look forward to sharing our modern facilities, which already handle more than 60,000 passengers a year. We know there is demand from thousands of people who have really missed the helicopter since it stopped in 2012.
“We’ve listened to that demand, investigated what we believe can work, and have partnered with SAS to make it happen. This gives visitors and islanders more choice over how they travel and makes the transport network more resilient, which is exactly what our customers say they want.”
Henk Schaeken, Managing Director of SAS, added: “We’re delighted to be partnering with the Steamship Group to provide the aircraft and crews for these new helicopter flights from Land’s End Airport. The AW169 is a state-of-the-art helicopter and we’ll be providing a brand-new aircraft straight off the production line, offering passengers a speedy and comfortable service. We look forward to expanding our operations in Cornwall.”
Rotary wing services to the islands were originally launched in 1963 but ended in October 2012 after the Penzance heliport was closed to make way for a new supermarket. Since then, links have been limited to fixed-wing flights by Skybus or sea ferries, both of which are operated by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group.
The new helicopter operation has been welcomed by business leaders in Cornwall, but marks a notable U-turn for the Steamship Group. Responding last year to plans from Penzance Heliport Ltd’s to launch its own rotary wing connections to the islands, the firm has previously maintained that there is insufficient traffic on the route to support additional capacity beyond its already established sea and fixed-wing air links.
Penzance Heliport Ltd, which is funded by a group of private investors, intends to offer flights using a fleet of 15-seat AW139s from a new heliport in Penzance. A planning application for the facility was approved unanimously by Cornwall Council last February but development is currently on hold after the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company began proceedings for a judicial review.
Commenting on the new service, the enterprise said: “We remain committed to reinstating genuine choice and reliability to the Isles of Scilly transport system through a helicopter service from Penzance. The near sea-level location of the Penzance Heliport site is the keystone to reinstating a reliable, weather-resilient helicopter service to the Isles of Scilly. Land’s End Airport – which suffers disruption on one in every four days each year – is the problem, not the solution.”
Penzance Heliport Ltd added the rival helicopter operation “sadly signals no more than one company tightening its stranglehold further on these islands. It is a blatant attempt to retain a monopoly that is not working in the interests of these islands.” The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group is yet to respond to the accusation.