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End of an era as the final BIH flight looms

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: October 25, 2012

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IN JUST a few days' time one of the most familiar sites and sounds over our skies will be grounded.

Helicopters have shuttled locals and residents from the mainland to the Isles of Scilly for 49 years, but that is all set to stop next week after a legal challenge delayed the sale of the Eastern Green heliport, sounding the death knell for the cash-strapped service.

High-level discussions and rumours of saviours have been rife since the announcement was made at the beginning of August but despite this, the last helicopter will take off on Wednesday, October 31.

"It is the end of a very significant era and one which has made a very significant contribution to the economy of the area, not only the Isles of Scilly but also Penzance," said St Ives MP Andrew George.

"And of course it has employed a huge number of people in skilled jobs."

The saga over the fate of the British International Helicopters' (BIH) flights has been rumbling on for the past few years. In 2008 it was announced that the heliport would close and services would transfer to Land's End airport. A drop in passenger numbers and rise in costs was blamed for the service shift – but just a month later the company revealed the plans had been shelved.

In November 2009 the move was put on hold indefinitely and four months later BIH signed a deal to sell the heliport land to Sainsbury's.

The summer of 2010 brought revamped plans to move the helicopter operation to Land's End airport but this all changed when a possible site in St Erth began to be discussed.

However, after a public outcry and mounting pressure against the proposals, BIH were forced to withdraw the plan.

Then came the news that the flights would be moving to Newquay at the end of this summer season.

But after two legal challenges to the decision to grant planning permission to Sainsbury's to build on the land at Eastern Green were submitted, BIH accepted defeat and announced the closure plans.

Managing director Tony Jones said he wanted to thank all those involved for all they had done to keep the service going in times of uncertainty.

"I have been with British International Helicopters since we took over the service in 2000 and so naturally October 31 will be a day of many emotions," he said.

"I have been immensely proud to lead a great team of people providing the only helicopter link between the mainland and the Isles of Scilly for the last 49 years, the longest-serving helicopter passenger service in the world.

"The last flight does indeed mark the end of an era, not least for those in the company for whom it will also be their last day of employment with BIH.

"Over the past three months since we announced the closure of the service, we have been consulting with staff and fortunately we have managed to redeploy a handful of people to other parts of the business.

"However, for the majority, this is not just an ending but the start of the search for new employment.

"Many have been here far longer than me. In all the discussions and debates around the future of the helicopter service, little has been said about the people who have done their best for it to remain 'business as usual' in the final months of the service, despite the uncertainty ahead .

"I would like to thank everyone publicly for their dedication to the service and the dignified way in which they have gone about their work and to wish everyone the very best for the future."

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