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SA Airlink to fly route to St Helena

Jul 02 2017 06:00
Abrie Burger

Johannesburg - The British island of St Helena will be serviced by an SA Airlink flight route after earlier plans for commercial flights to the island by British Airways came to nought.

Last month, SA Airlink returned 60 stranded passengers to their homes on the island after the postal boat RMS St Helena had to be anchored in Cape Town for repairs.

SA Airlink is a regional operator that has smaller types of airliners in its fleet.

In April, Comair, which runs British Airways locally, undertook a test flight to the island with a Boeing 737-800, which encountered dangerous problems with strong winds.

The islands’ airport, which opened last year and for which the British government appropriated about R3 billion in 2005, appeared to be a white elephant and the mail ship was again put into use as the only connection with the outside world.

The St Helena authority announced a tender process for regular commercial flights to the island in December, including a direct service between St Helena and Ascension. The tender required a weekly flight throughout the year, with its destination as a recognised international hub or an airport that has direct connections to Britain or South Africa.

The required operator would have to use a type of aircraft which could land on the southern highway with a tailwind – a wind blowing from behind the airplane.

This would just be for a short period, while the authority investigated the suitability of the northern runway for a regular service.

Rodger Foster, head of SA Airlink, said the airline was chosen after it demonstrated the capability to land and take off with its Embraer E190.

Comair has not, however, abandoned plans to eventually establish a service to the island, said Stephen Forbes, its spokesperson.

Forbes said Comair’s contract with the St Helena authority has been prepared and includes the possibility of a service that uses the northern runway.

Chris Pickard, director of tourism on St Helena, said the negotiations with SA Airlink could still go on for another few weeks.

Pickard said the island was continuously preparing for the start of commercial flights. Work on a new hotel in Jamestown is going well and, together with the existing accommodation, the island would easily be able to handle its first group of visitors.

“Considering that St Helena will begin with one weekly flight, we expect about 2 600 visitors to visit the island in the first year. Our target is 3 000,” said Pickard.

Kerisha Stevens, spokesperson of the St Helena authority, said a formal announcement would be made in the coming weeks about the start of commercial flights.

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