Air travel is finally arriving at one of the world’s remotest islands.
It was to St Helena that Napoleon Bonaparte was famously sent, post-Waterloo, in 1815. That journey, undertaken by sea, took 10 weeks to complete. More than 200 years later, St Helena still takes five days to reach from Cape Town but it’s now become significantly more reachable another way.
Initial passenger flights to St Helena Airport begin on 14 October 2017. Before the month is out, the island’s first high-end hotel will have accepted its first paying passengers, too. Local tourism stands to increase exponentially as a result.
St Helena Development
St Helena Airport has been a long time coming. Construction approval was granted in September 2008. The design, build and operating rights were then won by South African construction firm Basil Read in 2011. Airport development, logistically, proved a challenge: a 14-kilometre road had to be constructed just to get materials on site. Operational certification was awarded in May 2016 but, for the past 17 months, only private and medical flights have gone in and out. That’s because of concerns over how wind shear could impact on commercial flights, creating a potential safety issue. Steps have now been taken to mitigate that concern as far as possible, if not eliminate it.
South African carrier Airlink will be the first airline to have regular St Helena services in place. Starting this weekend, it’ll operate once-weekly flights between Johannesburg and the island, via Namibia. The first commercial St Helena flight is scheduled to arrive at 1315hrs local, then leave the next day. This will allow passengers to enjoy either single-night, or seven-night, stays.
The Embraer E190 airliner can accommodate 99 passengers but, on the Johannesburg-St Helena route, it won’t be filled to capacity. Instead, 76 of the 99 available seats will be occupied. That will keep the aircraft’s weight down, reduce the amount of runway it needs to use and expose it to less of the local wind shear effect.
St Helena’s single runway is 6,398 feet long – enough to handle medium-range, twin-engined airliners up to Airbus A320 size. The airport also has a 3,500-square metre terminal building featuring a restaurant, duty-free shop, gift shop and café.
Airlink was established in 1995. Today, it’s equipped with 43 aircraft and, from its three hubs, serves more than 40 airports. Its fleet includes various Embraer aircraft models – the E190 included. Part of the E-Jet family, the E190 first flew in March 2004. Initial E190 passenger flights happened in September 2006.
St Helena Airport panorama copyright Paul Tyson – courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Used as per Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
St Helena Airport terminal image copyright David Stanley – courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Used as per Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license