Breakthrough at last on Ascension-St Helena flights

Monthly flights between St Helena and Ascension Island have been negotiated, after months of discontent over the vital link being excluded from the original deal with winning contractor Comair. Each month, of the the airline’s Saturday flights from Johannesburg will land at St Helena and then continue on to Ascension for an overnight stop, before a return flight on the same route. Executive councillor Lawson Henry had led angry calls for a way to be found for Saints working on Ascension and the Falklands to be able to fly home without expensive detours of many thousands of miles. Ascension Island Government acknowledge support from Governor Mark Capes and Enterprise St Helena in applying pressure for the link to be provided.

Read more here.

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St Helena’s first aircraft landing: full coverage

Picture by Nick Stevens 960The arrival of the first aircraft ever to land on St Helena was one of the biggest events on the island since Napoleon stepped ashore 200 years earlier. Click on the links to see video, pictures, stories and social media coverage.

VIDEO: First aircraft lands on St Helena – the view from the cockpit
IN PICTURES: The day history flew in from the ocean, by Darrin and Sharon Henry

IN PICTURES: Crowds turn out to see first plane fly in
‘There’s nobody in the shops’: flight into history
‘A bit of wind’ greets first pilots
SOCIAL MEDIA: The story of St Helena’s first flight, as told by the people on the island
How the media covered St Helena’s first landing (it barely noticed)
Is it a birdie? Not, it’s another test flight…

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VIDEO: First aircraft lands on St Helena – the view from the cockpit

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 21.30.05Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 10.49.05
Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 10.48.11 Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 22.04.01Click the picture above to watch the first-ever aircraft landing on St Helena, as the pilots saw it. St Helena Government has released cockpit footage shot by the crew of the Beechcraft King Air 200 that touched down at the island’s first airport on 15 September 2015.

Clicking on any of the images here will take you to footage shot on the day by onlookers watching from vantage points above Prosperous Bay Plain.

One was shot from close to the runway; another shows the drama of the landscape that will greet passengers on future commercial flights as they come in to land alongside the King and Queen Rocks.

The last, posted on Facebook, was captured on a GoPro camera placed alongside the runway.

The tiny Beechcraft plane flew the 1,100 miles from Angola with a crew of five in order to carry out a series of calibration flights to allow the configuring of the navigation and communication systems at the new airport.

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How the media covered St Helena’s first landing (it barely noticed)

nick kaiser stevens 01 960The arrival of the first aircraft to land on St Helena was just about the most momentous event for the island since Napoleon had stepped ashore almost exactly 200 years earlier, in October 1815. The world’s media barely mentioned it, despite the £250m or more that it cost British taxpayers to build an airport for the plane to land on.

The Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, who once flew round the island in his private aircraft, tweeted a cutting of a story in The Times by Michael Binyon – the distinguished journalist brought in by Governor Mark Capes to train media staff on the island.

Days later, Lord Ashcroft became the centre of a media storm with revelations about UK prime minister David Cameron.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 22.59.35The Guardian had a full write-up, two days after the aircraft touched down on Prosperous Bay Plain. “It was an unusual flight, to an unusual airport, in an unusual place,” wrote Emma Weaver, who emphasised the huge logistical challenges involved in the airport construction project.

Guardian 660Airports International had a story based on St Helena Government’s press release, quoting project director Janet Lawrence:

“I honestly can’t describe today,” she said. “Years of planning and thousands of man hours have gone into this moment and to actually see it happen is an immense feeling.”

US-based Air & Space website noted that new airports were a rarity in modern times. “But this new airport is particularly significant. It’s the only one for nearly a thousand miles in any direction, mostly because there’s not much of anything in any direction.”

Stories also appeared on the South American MercoPress website, the Traveller 24 site in South Africa, and on the Breaking Travel News site – as well as in the island media.

Remote St Helena welcomes first flight – The Guardian
First aircraft lands at St Helena – Airports International
History made as first ever plane lands – St Helena Government

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Is it a birdie? No, it’s another test flight…

The first aircraft lands on St Helena - pictured by Nick "Kaiser" Stevens

The first aircraft lands on St Helena – pictured by Nick “Kaiser” Stevens

On Twitter, Niall O’Keeffe joked that golfers on St Helena now had a new excuse for a badly-played shot: being distracted by the noise of an aeroplane.

The crew of the first aircraft ever to land on the island went on to stage another dozen or so flights over ten days in September 2015, to allow calibration of the navigation and communication systems at the island’s new airport.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 22.29.39When all the flights were completed, Governor Mark Capes held a reception for the team from the UK and South Africa who carried out the flights.

He said: “Tuesday 15 September 2015 will always be a special day to remember on St Helena. For this entire community it was an exciting day and for some an emotional one.”

Captain Grant Brighton, one of the pilots who were at the controls for the first landing, said: “We didn’t know what we were coming to but the runway was very good, solid and conditions were great.

“When we were first approaching the runway and experienced the turbulence you realise that no one has ever experienced that turbulence before. We probably did a dozen landings over the last nine days.

“The island itself far exceeded our expectations. The people are incredible and there’s so much history here which you don’t understand until you research it or are here to see for yourself.”

The results of the flights would not be known for some time.

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IN PICTURES: The day St Helena stopped to see history fly in from the ocean, by Darrin and Sharon Henry

150915 What The Saints Did Next 22 St Helena airport150915 What The Saints Did Next 31 St Helena airport 150915 What The Saints Did Next 10 St Helena airportSharon and Darrin Henry have produced some fine photojournalism from around the world, but on 15 September 2015, the big story was on their own island.

They photographed the arrival of the first plane ever to land at St Helena’s nearly-completed airport, and they photographed the people who turned out to see it: the human face of a historic day.

A report – and many more pictures – will appear on their blog, What The Saints Did Next, in the next few days. See also their Facebook page.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to view a selection of their pictures.

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IN PICTURES: Crowds turn out to see first plane fly in to St Helena

Picture by Giselle Richards

Picture by Giselle Richards

Bruce Salt, Giselle Richards and Andrea Louise Benjamin have kindly agreed to share some of their pictures of the arrival of the first aircraft ever to fly to St Helena. St Helena Government has also shared some images. Bruce was covering the event professionally for the St Helena Independent and had a close-up view. Giselle and Andrea photographed the event at the people saw it, from vantage points overlooking the airport. More pictures may be added later: please come back for updates.

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‘A bit of wind’ greets first pilots ever to land on St Helena

Picture by Andrew Louise Benjamin

Picture by Andrea Louise Benjamin

The plane looked tiny against the bulk of the King and Queen Rocks as it dropped smoothly down to the runway at the end of the historic first flight to St Helena.

It was, said Deon de Jager, another great day, “not only for the island’s history, but for everyone who worked well on the airport project.”

Nearly four years had gone by since the first staff from construction firm Basil Read rolled up Main Street in Jamestown on their way to begin transforming the desert landscape that would become St Helena’s first airport.

Saints and incomers worked alongside each other, blasting and shifting more than ten million tonnes of rock to make possible the moment when the Beechcraft plane and its five crew touched down at 20 minutes to two, local time.

Watching the plane approach, Deon, Basil Read’s director on the island, felt the same trepidation he experienced in July 2012, when the airport supply ship became the first cargo vessel ever to dock at St Helena.

“When they did the first flyover… a bit worried about the wind,” he told Mike Olsson of Saint FM. “That’s always to be expected on Prosperous, but they came in well.”

A de-brief would follow, he said, and then it would be on to the job the pilots, inspector and engineer had flown out for – working with specialists on the ground to calibrate the navigation, landing and communication systems at the new airport.

“If the weather holds we will be flying around for most of the day tomorrow,” he said.

Pilots Grant Brighton and Dillan Van Niekerk appeared unfazed as they described the experience of landing on St Helena.

“It went wonderfully,” they said. “No issues at all: a bit windy on the final approach but all good.”

If the weather were to “turn a bit bumpy”, that could have an impact on the 15-or-so hours of take-offs and landing to come. “With calibration flights we have to be flying precision approaches,” they said.

“We expect it to be around ten days or so at the very most, and get the job done.”


VIDEO: 5,000 tonnes of explosives and fuel by the shipload: why St Helena’s airport builders are careful with matches
IN PICTURES: The big switch-on at St Helena’s airport
Time-lapse videos recall historic landing
After the nerves, praise all round for successful docking

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‘There’s nobody in the shops’ – flight into history as first plane lands on St Helena

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 15.46.16The first plane ever to fly to St Helena was reported to be in sight at 13.37 UK time, announced Saint FM.

A caller to the station said it was approaching over The Barn and taking a wide arc round Levelwood as it neared the end of an 1,100-mile flight from Angola.

And then, a few minutes later, host Catherine Turner declared: “I can definitely assure you that the plane has landed and is taxi-ing in to the airport.

“The first flight to land at St Helena ever landed at just after a quarter to two this afternoon. We can now genuinely say we’ve got an airport.

“I’m breaking up. It’s so exciting.

“When we looked out in the street [in Jamestown] the only thing we could see moving was a cat. I think everybody must be up there.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 15.40.57

Catherine played Dido’s Thank You in tribute to “the hundreds of people involved in building, testing, everything.”

She followed that with locally-written song, Beat of the Airport Drum.

Neil George phoned in to the station to say he was speechless to see a plane land on St Helena. He was among about 200 people watching from the Millennium Forest.

The aircraft circled the airfield twice before touching down on the third approach – based on calls to the studio in Jamestown.

“There’s nobody in the shops, nobody in the street,” said SAMS Radio 1. “It’s been a success.”

Giselle Richards of G-Unique was among those who closed their businesses and joined the long tail of people heading up the hill. She posted a picture of herself on Facebook, wearing aeroplane earrings specially for the occasion.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 16.08.33Earlier Saint FM reported that St Helena’s oldest resident, 101-year-old Ma Flo, was among those lining vantage points above the island’s new airport to see history made.

Children had been given blanket permission to miss school to view the landing. Schools would have closed and transported children to vantage points across the east of the island had the flight been expected to arrive in the morning.

Chief of Police Trevor Botting said on Twitter that it was great to see the excitement in his team as the aircraft approached. It was a privilege to be on the island for it, he said.

Five people were aboard the Beechcraft plane, flying out from Angola in order to carry out a series of flights to calibrate landing, navigation and communications equipment.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 16.14.35The aircraft crew comprised Captain Grant Brighton, co-pilot and first officer Dillan Van Niekerk, chief aircraft engineer Jeffrey McKenzie – all of TAB Charters, SA – together with chief pilot Stuart Rawlinson and chief flight inspector Nick Whitehouse, both of Surrey-based Flight Calibration Services.

They had to navigate by GPS alone.

The airport – the UK’s biggest single overseas aid project, costing more than £250million – is due to be completed in late February 2016.

On Facebook, Nick Stevens posted images of a long convoy of vehicles making their way back home along the airport construction routes, which are normally closed to the public.

One person reported on Facebook that the chance to drive on the wide, unmade road to Foxy’s Garage was the main attraction of the day.

‘The world now connected to St Helena. Lucky world’: first flight, told via social media
It’s surreal: pilot’s comment as he prepares to fly first plane to St Helena

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‘The eagle has landed. The world is now linked to St Helena by air. Lucky world’: the story of St Helena’s first flight, as told by the people on the island

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 16.10.06

Click the pic to read social media reportage as a small plane flew into the history books

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