Deal signed for weekly flights to St Helena

A deal has finally been signed for an air service into St Helena’s £285 million airport  – 14 months after it should have opened.

No date has been set for the start of flights by South African operator SA Airlink.

Flights between the island and Johannesburg will include a stop at Windhoek in Namibia to connect with Cape Town.

Saints had been angry that the original, aborted air service would not have served the Cape, where the strong St Helenian community provides a support network for islanders having hospital treatment.

SA Airlink will also operate a monthly flight to Ascension Island, where workers have been virtually stranded for months after the RAF runway was declared unsafe. They’re expected to take place on the second Saturday of each month.

Dangerous winds meant the original operator could not land aircraft on the cliff-top runway.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee in Westminster found December 2016 that “staggering” errors had been made by unnamed officials.

An investigation has yet to identify those responsible.

 

Until now, most flights into St Helena have been for medical evacuations on small aircraft.

Sixty passengers flew into the island on a “historic” charter flight in May after the island’s supply ship, the RMS St Helena, broke down for several weeks in Cape Town.

The ship, which takes five days to sail to the island, has had to be kept in service well past its due retirement age.

Flights will operate weekly flights between St Helena and OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, with a stop-over at Windhoek in Namibia for a connection to Cape Town.

A proving flight must take place before a licence can be given by the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

St Helena’s British governor, Lisa Phillips, said: “Very soon a trip to South Africa, for St Helenians, will take a matter of hours rather than days.  

“And we will be able to welcome tourists here in larger numbers and improve the economy of the island and offer a better life for those who live here.”

South African firm Comair won the original contract to run weekly flights into St Helena using aircraft with British Airways livery, subsidised by the UK’s Department for International Development.

But its pilot took three attempts to land on a test flight because of severe wind shear on the runway, apparently caused by mountains either side of the runway.

Solutions considered included blasting away the top of one of the mountains, but it was found that some aircraft could land safely with a tail wind, instead of the normal approach into the prevailing wind.

 

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