Wilts and Dorset has pulled out as main sponsor of the Bournemouth Air Festival - blaming the cost of providing free bus travel to the over-60s.

The company says it is getting less public money towards the government’s scheme to give free bus passes to older people.

The bus operator had sponsored the air show under its More Bus brand for the event’s first two years. Its withdrawal has left Bournemouth Tourism looking for another title sponsor this year, although it says it will put on a spectacular event whatever happens.

Wilts and Dorset managing director, Alex Carter, said: “We’ve looked very carefully at our financial options as a result of the unexpected six-figure shortfall we now face.

“The loss of revenue is the equivalent to the salary of seven bus drivers and with rising operational costs we must look to preserve front line jobs.”

The government funds the free travel scheme by handing out money to local authorities, who pass it on to bus operators.

But councils locally say the scheme is not properly funded, especially in resort towns where there is an influx of holiday-makers each summer.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “A recent survey suggests around 95 per cent of the population believe it’s right that older and disabled people are entitled to travel for free on off-peak buses.

“We're confident there is enough money in the system in total. But we want to ensure the special grant funding for concessionary fares is fairly distributed across the country – which is why we’re proposing an extra £70,000 to be allocated to Bournemouth and an extra £890,000 to the South West as a whole.”