Tuesday 3 July 2018

Penzance Heliport Best Choice.

The following letter from Capt Jim Blain was printed in the Cornishman recently:

It is a mystery to me and many others in the aviation community why the IOSSC should want to set up a helicopter service with a small helicopter from Land’s End to The Isles of Scilly in direct competition to their own fixed wing service, unless of course it is an attempt to protect their monopoly of transport services to the islands. According to the company website it will cost £37 return more (fares on the helicopter will start at £215 return) and will save all of 5 minutes flight time.

The important factor, however, is that this helicopter service will still be plagued by the same Land’s End weather that has caused numerous delays and cancellations over the years. Even with the installation of the new Global Positioning technology (GPS) that the Steamship Company has repeatedly quoted, there still needs to be sufficient cloud base and visibility to land safely at the airport. It is not like the ‘autoland’ systems that allow landing in fog at major airports. Pilots of both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft flying into airfields like Land’s End, which do not have instrument guidance onto the runway, still need to see the ground or sea and the landing site to be able to land the aircraft. The rules dictate that there must be a minimum of 250 feet cloud base – the space between the bottom of the cloud and the surface – to allow a visual landing. Land’s End Airport is 400 feet above sea level and is subject to the same cloud base limitations, more for some aircraft types and for some landing directions dictated by the wind direction. In practice, this means that when the general cloud base is between 650 feet and 250 feet, not an infrequent occurrence, flights from Land’s End airport will be cancelled or delayed while flights from Penzance could continue.

I flew on this route from Penzance for 12 year - 7 years as chief pilot and 5 years as general manager. We consistently carried more than 100,000 passengers a year at a punctuality rate of 98% and a regularity rate of 99%. After the closure of the Penzance heliport Scilly lost between 1/3 and 1/2 its visitors, a shortfall that the fixed wing service has failed to make up.

I am surprised that the shareholders of the IOSSC have not woken up to the folly of a helicopter service from Lands End vying for the same customers that are at present being carried by their own fixed wing service. Perhaps they should be more concerned about the future of the sea freight service and the Scillonian 111 replacement.

Capt Jim Blain MRAeS

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