St Helena island finally has scheduled air services more than a year after the airport opened. Why is this big news? The British Overseas Territory is far out in the Atlantic and is often referred to as one of the remotest places in the world.
Currently there is a cargo ship that services the island’s population of 4,500 once or twice a month. This departs from Cape Town and the journey takes around five days. As you can imagine, the people living on St Helena are going to find their lives transformed.
South African Airlink
The airline serving the island is Airlink, which I noticed had a passing resemblance to the South African Airways (SAA) colours. When I did a dummy booking, I was taken to an SAA booking engine, so they are related.
Flights operate from Johannesburg in South Africa and stop at Windhoek in Namibia to refuel before continuing to St Helena. The timing of the arrival at Windhoek is such that passengers from Cape Town can connect to the service here in both directions.
So Why Is This Big News?
Earlier I mentioned it has been over a year (actually closer to 18 months) since the airport was completed. The reason services have taken so long to start is there were concerns around windshear on the runway.
Windshear can cause difficulties for aircraft landing and taking off. Trial flights were undertaken and found that windshear on runway 20 was pretty severe. It meant that Comair, who were originally to operate services from Johannesburg with Boeing 737-800s, were unable to fly the route.
Airlink is using the smaller Embraer 190 and only 76 of the 99 seats are available for sale. This is to ensure there is no problem with the windshear issue.
For a time it looked like St Helena Airport was going to be a total lemon. It was built with much expectation and then immediately the windshear issue was discovered.
It is really good news to hear that the issues have been resolved and that commercial services have started. The RMS St Helena ship is due to be retired by February 2018 so air services are vital to this island’s survival.
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Featured image by SHG Access Office.
Airlink E190 image from @Fly_Airlink on Twitter.