STEAMSHIP GROUP: 'WE ARE NOT AFRAID OF COMPETITION'
The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group has hit back at Robert Dorrien-Smith's claims that it is concerned with protecting its monopoly.
The Group has submitted an objection to the Tresco owner's plans to reinstate a helicopter service between Penzance and the islands, saying that it will have a detrimental effect on current lifeline services.
Steamship Group CEO Rob Goldsmith has now insisted that it is "not afraid of competition" and will compete "vigorously and from a stronger position than in the past".
However, he added: "But we do not believe it is in the best interests of Scilly as a whole if the return of helicopter services results in two unprofitable or weak operations that struggle to fund essential upgrades in Scilly’s transport system, including a replacement Scillonian III ferry.
“We feel that an expensive helicopter service for the minority who can afford it could have significant implications for the viability of the rest of the lifeline transport system on which islanders depend year-round. It is questionable whether the current extremely seasonal and small market can sustain two air operations without damage to both, and by extension damage to the medium term best interests of the community.
“The heliport planning application lacks any analysis of the impact a helicopter service could have on existing lifeline services. We are still waiting to see any tangible evidence to support the stated 'complementary' benefits that have been claimed in the Tresco proposals."
Mr Goldsmith's statement continues: “Even if less than half the stated number of intended helicopter flights operated, this would require a huge uplift in the number of visitors to Scilly to make it viable. Tresco have worked very hard to canvass planning support from their large customer database but every one of the registered supporters of the scheme would have to fly up to an additional eight or nine times per year each way on top of all existing air journeys to make this stack up. This is totally unrealistic. It is much more likely that these new flights would have to try to take a significant segment of the passengers using existing services.
“Tresco talk about their new services growing the market and many people, including us, would agree that continued growth is desirable. However, Scilly has to decide what level of growth is wanted and achievable relative to accommodation, housing, work force and lifestyles. In order to be complementary, there would have to be immediate market growth of over 50%. Is this unprecedented level of growth credible, achievable or even desirable given the islands’ current infrastructure?
“Tresco’s comments have been selective with the historical evidence so we need to be careful that inconvenient truths are not re-packaged to present a “rose-tinted” view of the past and future. The market actually declined for nine years from its 2003 peak whilst helicopter services were operating in competition with other modes. In contrast, the market has grown without helicopters for three consecutive years since 2013 through a combination of lower cost, fixed-wing and sea services.
“It is also worth noting that the market was previously bigger than today and fixed-wing services were less well-established, but the helicopter operation was still unsustainable. Moreover the planned AW139 aircraft is far less weather-capable than the former, much bigger S-61 helicopter and from 2017 all fixed-wing aircraft will benefit from EGNOS satellite navigation to improve operating resilience."
Mr Goldsmith concluded: “Tresco has not been forthcoming about a number of critical issues so far and they have presented an 'all upside' case for new services. We are calling for any planning decision about the heliport to be based on robust objective evidence and feel that this is lacking in the application as it stands."