MORE THAN 50 jobs are being created as part of a multimillion-pound investment into transport to the Isles of Scilly.
The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company is taking on new staff for its sea link and air operations, including pilots, seamen, engineers and seasonal assistants.
The biggest recruitment drive in the firm's history comes as the company spends millions upgrading its airport at Land's End and leasing a new aircraft for its Skybus services, as well as refitting the Scillonian III passenger ferry and Gry Maritha freighter.
Since the closure of the British International Helicopter service from Penzance at the end of October last year, the weather has caused major disruption for islanders and visitors, with all flights out of Land's End being diverted to Newquay for the past six weeks.
Campaign group Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport (FRIST) has been lobbying for a government subsidy to alleviate the problems left by the departure of the helicopters.
But steamship company chief executive Jeff Marston is keen to stress the investment that is being made in services.
"We are making a substantial investment in people and resources to accommodate the increase in passengers and this recruitment drive is part of that.
"There has been a lot of talk about subsidy and while we're not opposed to the concept of getting some sort of relief, the Government has made it very clear this is not something it will consider at this time.
"I think we've proved that we can rise to the challenge and our board's commitment to continued investment in our sea and air operations will ensure that we can meet the needs of islanders and visitors for many years to come."
Around £1 million is being spent on a new terminal at Land's End airport, which will open in April and involve more passenger handling and terminal staff.
The company is leasing a new Twin Otter plane, which is arriving from Canada at the end of March and ten new pilots are being recruited, along with six fire officers – some of whom used to work at Penzance heliport.
Mr Marston said he hoped to double the capacity for passengers from Land's End and said it had already taken twice as many bookings for the summer compared to this time last year.
Plastic matting is being laid at the airport to help ease the waterlogging problems, and the company says it will look at a hard surface option later in the year.
The Scillonian III is currently in Penzance Dry Dock, where around £2 million is being spent on a refit, which will include an overhaul of the engines, new seating and internal layout, new TV screens, a passenger lift and new toilets, among other improvements.
FRIST co-ordinator Marian Bennett said: "FRIST is grateful to the steamship company for its efforts to keep things moving during difficulties caused for passengers by the recent extreme weather conditions and failures of adequate infrastructure at Land's End airport.
"The company should be commended for the significant investment currently being made in the Scillonian III, a new Twin Otter aircraft, and runway and terminal improvements at Land's End, but we hope that the company will be willing to listen to FRIST about the future affordability and reliability of actual transport services to and from the mainland."
Cornwall chamber chief executive Kim Conchie welcomed the investment.
He said: "Obviously it is very good news for Cornwall in light of all the other problems that the Scillies are experiencing at the moment. I know that it has been using local companies to build the new airport terminal at Land's End, so a lot of money has gone into the local economy on that as well as the refit of the Scillonian.
"We welcome its commitment to keeping the Isles of Scilly transport links open."
For the full list of vacancies see Jobs, page 63.