Scillies chopper puts down on St Mary’s despite eleventh hour uncertainty

One of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group's helicopters. A similar, but green, chopper from the fleet landed on St Mary’s today. Image courtesy of  ISSG.

Monday 21st May 2018 19:52 BST

A helicopter flying passengers from Land’s End to St Mary’s put down on the grass next to the runway this morning because its scheduled service was suspended.

The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group (ISSG) is running charter flights rather than its planned scheduled service because the Council of the Isles of Scilly issued a stop notice on Friday to allow more time to perform a Habitat Regulations Assessment.

The ISSG had been planning today to launch the first scheduled helicopter operations in five and a half years. The 49-year-old chopper link to the islands previously provided by British International stopped in October 2012, after the firm said the service had become unsustainable.

A statement posted on Friday on the Council of the Isles of Scilly’s website read: “This afternoon the Council of the Isles of Scilly has given notice to the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group (ISSG) and Specialist Aviation Services that all services are suspended with immediate effect in relation to the proposed helicopter service between Lands’ End and St Mary’s Airports.

“This suspension is being put in place to enable the Council to responsibly deal with the requirements of and to ensure compliance with the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2017.

“As the competent authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly must undertake A Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA). The Council is committed to resolving these issues as quickly as possible and hopes that we can work constructively together to do so.

“The delay was caused by the short amount of notice given to the Council by the operator. The formal request of intention to operate a helicopter service was only received by the Council on 3 April 2018. The council responded promptly on 6 April setting out further information and consultation that would be required before we could assess whether the new scheduled service could commence.

“The ISSG responded quickly on all safety and operational matters and has received clearance in this regard from both the Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority.

“However, the ISSG contested the need for any formal environmental consents and therefore did not provide adequate information relating to environmental matters. The Council consequently sought legal advice, which came through on 16 May confirming the need for the Council to carry out an HRA. The ISSG were contacted immediately and council staff worked tirelessly to gather the necessary information from the ISSG and complete a draft HRA in under 2 days. This draft has been shared with Natural England and is awaiting their feedback. 

“As the owner and operator of the Airport, the Council welcomes new flight services. Flights bring valuable revenue for the Airport and benefit the islands’ tourist industry. We do not take the decision to withhold consent lightly and regret any inconvenience this situation causes to passengers who have booked flights. The Council considers that it has done everything possible to accommodate the ISSG in their application. We look forward to completing our assessment as soon as possible.”

On Saturday The ISSG confirmed its brand new AW169 helicopter would fly between Land’s End and St Mary’s airports today.

The firm said discussions with the relevant authorities would continue, but these would not affect today’s flights.

Steamship company chairman Andrew May added: “I would like to thank everyone on our first flights for their patience and understanding and I am sorry they were subjected to unnecessary uncertainty, which was for reasons that were outside our control. We very much look forward to welcoming them on Monday.”

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