St Helena Online

No flights from London? Woah, I’m going to Barbados…

St Helena will lose out to luxury destinations such as The Maldives and Barbados if it does not have direct flights from Europe, one of the men behind a potential airline for the island has warned.

The team setting up Atlantic Star Airlines wants to fly from London to St Helena and on to Cape Town, with a fuelling stop in southern Europe.

But that means widening the airfield currently being built on Prosperous Bay Plain or using a “compromised” aircraft, according to Captain Richard Brown – and there are doubts about whether the British government will agree to the work.

Captain Richard Brown
Captain Richard Brown

However, there has been unofficial word from the island that the upgrade could be funded from cost savings on other parts of the project. 

The alternative is for travellers to fly to South Africa and then catch a connecting flight to the island – but Richard told St Helena Online that wealthy tourists would not do that when other islands could be reached on a single flight.

Richard, co-founder and director of Atlantic Star, said: “In order to build a sustainable economy, ultimately flights from Europe will be needed.

“Our experience within the aviation industry is that very few people will  catch two flights to go on vacation. 

“Everybody knows how long it takes to get to Cape Town [from Europe]. You add on a minimum of a two-hour turnaround and then another four-and-a-half-hour flight out to the island, and you are only going to have tourists who are particularly determined to visit St Helena.

“The reality is that St Helena will have to compete with other destinations such as the Maldives, such as Mauritius, such as Barbados, such at Antigua, such as St Lucia – which are all fantastic and have their own on-island experiences to offer. 

Barbados: direct flights from London. Picture by Jack Kennard
Barbados: direct flights from London. Picture by Jack Kennard

“The thing about all of those destinations is that they are all served directly from London on a single flight.

“So if St Helena is to compete in that market place for the sort of customers that go to those sorts of destinations, St Helena needs to have direct flights.”

Nigel Kirby, who is managing the airport project at the UK’s Department for International Development, did not appear to offer encouragement to the Europe lobby when he spoke to the Friends of St Helena in late 2012.

At the Friends’ annual meeting on 8 June 2013, Ian Mathieson said: “When we had Nigel Kirby here in the autumn he was making it fairly clear that Johannesburg was the front runner.”

Richard Brown said: “We are in interested in operating in and out of South Africa. We see is as part of the A-Star route network that will operate from the UK, down to the island and on to Cape town.

“Secondary to that we can see potential for adding another route to Johannesburg within a relatively short time frame.”

The Maldives: direct flights from Europe. Picture by Philipp Fuchs
The Maldives: direct flights from Europe. Picture by Philipp Fuchs

He said the company had a vision of offering wealthy tourists a week on St Helena and a second week in South Africa, with a direct flight back to London.

“People can go from a chilled-out week on the island to something again very exciting and different and unusual on the Western Cape.”

The company wants to use Boeing 757 aircraft, which are no longer manufactured but would still have a long service life.

“At the present time the airfield specification is not sufficiently robust to take a 757 operation, and DfID are currently reviewing whether the airfield will be upgraded to support those 757 operations.

“The shoulders on the sides of the runway will need to be slightly wider and the taxiway will have to be slightly wider.

“You are talking about a relatively small change. But the 757 is the best aircraft out there to provide a European link to the island.

Mauritius: direct flights AND giant tortoises. Picture by Tim Parkinson
Mauritius: direct flights AND giant tortoises. Picture by Tim Parkinson

“The Boeing 737 and Airbus A319 would also have this capability but they are far more compromised in terms of having to put extra fuel tanks in the belly of the aeroplane, which removes space for baggage and for cargo.

“We see cargo as a significant part of the operation – potentially to aid island exports, particularly in terms of fisheries.”

Importing some goods by air would also be important, he said. “The airline has to be a viable commercial entity.”

He said London was the ideal departure point. “It’s still Europe’s biggest single economic centre and that means there’s a lot of high-net-worth individuals looking for interesting and exclusive experiences.

“It’s also logical because it’s the destination of choice for Saints.

“They’ll be prepared to put up with flying to Cape Town or Johannesburg and catching a connection flight to get themselves to London.

“They will accept it, and people will do it for business. But people won’t catch two flights to go on vacation.”

BR video 550Click the pic to see a video on the airport project

SEE ALSO: Airline dream that began with a map on the kitchen floor

Atlantic Star Airlines
St Helena Airport project

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  • Don’t make it too easy!
    Okay, I’ve never visited – always wanted to – never had, but one day will. So take my comments as those of an interested outsider.
    Totally understand why the airport is necessary, but surely one of the reasons St Helena has such a unique status is its accessibility – or lack of it. Captain Brown states that two flights from Europe will dissuade the more casual traveller, and limit visitors to those who are more determined. Well so be it; I am sure the Island will have more than enough to cope with as it is. Too many could destroy the very quality that makes St Helena so attractive in the first place.
    Planing to visit in 2015, by the way, but am frightened I won’t be able to leave.

  • I admire Capt. Brown for his enthusiasm and his persistence. I honestly wish his project much success, although it seems to me that his lobbying efforts lack some credibility due to important and unwavering issues not properly addressed.

    1. Certainly, the first tourists arriving on St. Helena directly from London will be overwhelmed when they see those fantastic wide and fine sandy beaches framed by hundreds of palm trees gently swaying in the breeze. How come the world has never noticed before that St.Helena is the ultimate beach resort ? I am amazed about those continuous and ridiculous comparisons made with regard to other international beach destinations. The typical St. Helena tourist is entirely different and not thinking of what makes the Seychelles, Maldives, Mauritius, Barbados, Antigua and St. Lucia the choice for an extended beach vacation.

    2. Naturally, there will always be a small group of tourists with a very special interest in St. Helena. But the real potential for an increased number of visitors will be found among the more than 8 Million international tourists visiting South Africa yearly. Particularly those who spend 2, 3 or 4 weeks’ vacation visiting the game reserves, the beaches of Natal, the Garden Route, the Cape. They take several domestic flights during their vacation in Southern Africa and wouldn’t mind switching planes in Cape Town for a comfortable wide-body nonstop flight back home. These are the ones that should to be convinced to add a side trip of 3 or 4 days to St. Helena. Smart marketing strategies and close cooperations with tour operators will be needed to include St. Helena in their planning.

    3. Can direct flights from London to St. Helena and back be profitable ?
    According to Boeing, the 757-200 needs a 2,911 m long runway for take-offs at maximum take-off weight. The runway on St. Helena will – at best – be 1,950 m long, roughly 1,000 meters too short. The 757-200 could , e.g. take off from a 1,675 m long runway if the destination is less than 3,220 km away. Airports in ‘Southern Europe’ are clearly further off. Whether it is Sal, Praja or Lisbon, the airplane will have to take off with considerable weight restrictions, making the flight less profitable. This could lead to the temptation of increased ticket prices in order to counterbalance empty seats. Can this be a financially viable operation for the airline ? Who would be covering potential losses? Who are the investors?

    4. As a passenger, I would like to know what happens if the only aircraft has a technical problem and flights are disrupted. How long will I be stranded for? What kind of agreements will be in place with other airlines to bring me home on another flight as quickly as possible ? Nothing could be read until now about such important details. Are there provisions made to cover the additional costs replacement flights cause ?

    In conclusion: It is amazing enough, that 4000 people will get their own airport. An own airline would be spectacular. But if those direct flights from London are really going to happen, at least 2 additional round trips weekly from Cape Town should be operated by a different air service provider. As the saying goes, do not put all eggs into one basket.

  • Easter Island is about the only island that could be compared to St. Helena. Also not a beach destination and very isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Firmly anchored on a flight route popular with tourists between Santiago de Chile and Tahiti / French Polynesia. A smart decision.
    Maybe one day in the future, there will be a route Cape Town – St. Helena – Rio de Janeiro ?.

    An interesting article had been written in 2008, when Easter island was in a similar position as St. Helena will be soon. Here is the link:

  • Like so many of us, we watch, wait and hope that Atlantic Star really “takes-off”.
    Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. Well, taste anyway !!!
    For the past 25 years I have made annual visits to mother, who lives in South Africa, a territory I have visited far too often for it to hold any traveller-appeal.
    Many years ago, I developed an unusual hobby that re-introduced the sense of travel and adventure into my annual South African journeys that continues to this day.
    I decided to add adventure to my SA trips by scouring the carriers, and mapping out every route, every connection and every possible airport between Cape Town and Cairo. When I ran out, I, added Middle-Eastern states, and m looking forward to my 3 day visit to the Seychelles next month, but, apart from Libya, there isn’t really anywhere else left, so you can imagine how much i am praying for a mini-break among you lot in a couple of years.
    As I have a fair bit of experience in the filed of SA-UK flight options, i have far too many thoughts to and suggestions to continue with this message, but will happily share them if invited to, but as no new posts have been added in over a year, i fear this might go unread, so will conclude shortly and post again if this gets read by anybody.
    Incidently, according to the route map of the ship I left the UK on as an infant (Windsor Castle) my tiny eyes have already seen your island, and I do hope it wasn’t for the last time !!!

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