WITH the future of helicopter flights from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly still in the balance, The Cornishman spoke to business leaders and councillors to find out what they think about the prospects for the passenger service.
Dick Cliffe, chairman of Penzance Chamber of Commerce: I'm deeply concerned about the transport problems. The short-term problem is sustaining the island community this winter without the helicopter service, given the vulnerability of the Skybus service to disruption by adverse weather. The long-term problems are the lack of a commercially viable plan to replace the ferry and the impact of the high cost of travel to Scilly upon visitor numbers.
Whether a helicopter solution is achievable I doubt, given the very high cost of setting up and running such a service. Any subsidy for a helicopter service would hurt Skybus, who are making large investments in buildings and aircraft to fill the hole created by British International Helicopters' departure.
I believe the cost-effective solution will be a Public Service Obligation on the ferry route to allow a regular, affordable, all-year-round service.
Marian Bennett, Isles of Scilly councillor and member of the Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport (FRIST): With the demise of the helicopter service on November 1 and the lack of a winter passenger ferry service, transport links with the mainland will be the worst they have been for the past 50 years and unless radical action is taken at government level, things are likely to deteriorate further.
As a representative of FRIST I was invited to attend the annual conference of the European Federation of Small Islands, which was held in Scotland at the end of last week, to learn of the revenue and capital support provided to ferry services. Representatives from other islands were shocked to learn of the lack of support given to Scilly's transport, that we had no all-year affordable passenger sea service, and are now going to be totally reliant in the winter months on a small fixed-wing service which is likely to suffer severe disruption from fog, a waterlogged runway and gales (plucky little planes though they are).
You can sign up on www.frist.org.uk to register your support and be kept informed.
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council: Good transport links are pivotal for a vibrant and sustainable community.
In these tough economic times, the last thing that the islanders need to contend with is the potential loss of a key link to the mainland, which is vitally important to both tourism and the wider business community.
To lose fast daily connections to the mainland will not only cause difficulties for existing businesses, making business transactions more difficult and costly, but may also deter new businesses and/or investment from flowing into the islands. Business decisions rely upon confidence and this issue will impact upon decisions made by countless businesses connected to the Isles of Scilly in the coming months.
Robert Dorrien-Smith, owner of Tresco: My ultimate hope is that the Isles of Scilly is treated in a similar way to other remote islands of the UK with the possibility of subsidies to cover the times of year when the lifeline service is not self-sufficient.
The stopping of services would have a huge impact on Tresco, where we have five families directly employed at the heliport.
We are not going to find a solution within the next six weeks but I'm working flat-out with stakeholders to find a solution – but I don't know what that solution is.
See next week's paper for an insight into how the loss of the flight could potentially affect islanders.