Following the press release from the St Helena Government today Friday 21st July, confirmed that an agreement had been signed off for SA Airlink to provide a scheduled air service to the Island from Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa to include a monthly service to Ascension Island. The service to and from Tambo will include a stopover at Windhoek International Airport in Namibia. The service will offer great opportunities for connecting flights to Cape town and other destinations. The aircraft confirmed to be used is an Embraer E190-100IGW that will offer business and economy class to its passengers.
Shortly after the news was released social media platforms kicked into life with comments and opinions on the air service. Many still questioned the preferred direct cape town flight, although most welcomed the news and are happy with the long awaited start of the new air service to the Island that is almost ready to be commissioned once the finalising regulatory approvals with the South African Civil Aviation Authority, others commented on medical services for the Island and how this will fit in with the route, comments on the historical ties with Cape town were also raised, other comments were the Ascension link which is almost impossible as wide awake airfield is not accepting commercial flights due to safety concerns which means that Saints living on the Falklands would not benefit from the service immediately. SA Airlink’s CEO said SA Airlink are delighted to have reached this milestone and was extremely excited to be preparing for the proving flight shortly.
Other details along with tickets prices and commencement dates will follow shortly.
It has been announced by SHG that an Air partner chartered RJ85 Aircraft will arrive at St Helena’s Airport from Cape Town with some of the affected RMS passengers onboard as early as Wednesday 03rdMay 2017.
The affected passengers spent weeks of frustration sitting in Capetown whilst SHG and DFID negotiated and agreed to put on a flight to bring the passengers home. This solution was talked about earlier but have only just recently became a reality.
As many will recall Andrew weir shipping notified the Island on the 16th April 2017, that the RMS St Helena had developed a further fault with its starboard propeller only hours after it had left drydock in Simons Town. It was reported that RMS develop the very same problem it went into drydock to have fixed in the first place.
Whilst docked in Capetown it was also discovered that water was leaking through the new shaft seals that was fitted. This now meant the RMS St Helena would have to return to drydock to rectify the faults and as a consequence the forthcoming scheduled voyages to St Helena had to be cancelled. Some tourist passengers was forced to returned home.
A decision was taken to unloaded both passengers and cargo in preparation for its return back to Simonstown dry dock. Cargo was then loaded onto the MV Helena. The MV Helena is the replacement vessel for the RMS St Helena when she finally goes off line but had to be brought quickly into service to bring the awaited cargoes to St Helena. The RMS St Helena will continue during the transition period from sea to air and will be taken out of service when the air service is fully implemented.
After much discussions most passengers were accommodated with family and friend and other went into Hotels and Guest houses around Capetown. Most if not all transit and tourist class passengers, returned back to their home countries because there was no clarity on timeline or a contingency plan in place to move the affected passengers to St Helena.
Up to ten passengers were offered a voyage to St Helena on the survey research vessel Ocean Observer which incidentally was departing Cape town the same week. The Ocean Observer and was on route to Puerto Rico but was happy to divert via St Helena to drop off passengers. It was first thought that the Ocean Observer could accommodate more than ten passengers on this journey, however, the UK MCSA did not give approval for this to happen. This meant that the majority of passengers were to remain in Cape town until the Government found a solution.
Whist the passengers sat in Capetown and with no worthwhile news nor clarity coming from AW shipping managers, SHG and DFID many rumours circulated through the social media platform. Most social media post complained about the lack of communication from the official authorities back in London and in St Helena. During this news outage over the Easter period, the community radio station Saint Fm worked tirelessly to keep everyone up to speed with the events as they unfolded.
During this time, another situation had unfolded on Ascension Island. The Ascension Island Airfield operators had announced that they were cancelling all commercial and South Atlantic Airbridge flights for the foreseeable future. There were safety concerns about the state of its Airfield, this meant that people travelling to and from the Falkland Island and also the UK would not be able to make the journey to Ascension Island to connect with the RMS St Helena in Ascension.
With all of this now causing even further impact on the St Helena travel situation it began to look even more difficult to overcome.
Finally the St Helena Government announced that their Air partner has teamed up with SA Air-link and has a contractual agreement to fly the affected passengers to St Helena via Namibe on Wednesday 03rdMay 2017.
Two of the affected passengers Tracy and Chad Corker who were stuck in Cape town are booked onto the flight from Cape town, Tracy said apart from been totally frustrated with the communication issues during this whole process, she is looking forward to arriving home in style by air and she has decided to purchase a new outfit for the arrival day. Tracy owns and operates one of the oldest and most successful establish tour services (Corkers Tourist Services) on the Island.
The Islands Governor Lisa Phillips was also due to return back to the Island on this flight.
The Air Partner and SA Air link flight will also be offering priority booking seats on the return flight from St Helena to Capetown for those passengers that were affected by the delay of the RMS. St Helena Government and local media on St Helena will be updating every one with more details as soon as they become available.
Passengers who were connecting with the RMS voyage 256 via Ascension were offered a passage to the Island on RMS voyage 257 which leaving Capetown on or about 04th may 2017. Some of the passengers with onward travel arrangements have already flown to Cape town this weekend. Some affected medivacs and St Helena Government employees are due to fly on a BA flight departing PM from London Heathrow Airport on Wednesday 03rd May 2017. These passengers will be transferred to the RMS directly on arrival in cape town.
Discussion are ongoing to re-route passengers via Cape town who are affected by the Ascension Island connection on voyage 257 on the 13th May 2017. This would however mean a six weeks duration would be required for this journey and that for most people another disappointment as they would not be able to get that amount of leave and will be forced to cancel their trip.
Speaking with a family who had planned this journey for some years (via Ascension) to visit there 86-year-old granny and great granny is devastated as they are finding it difficult to change their travel arrangements at such short notice.
The RMS was due to depart Simons Town drydock today 02 May for sea trials, this however didn’t happen and the RMS is still in Simons Town. It is hope that news of the delay will be forthcoming .