All eyes from around the world was on St Helena Island as SA Airlink inaugural flight from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg touched down at the St Helena Airport at 14.00 GMT October 14th 2017. Slightly later than originally planned but none the less this is the start of the weekly commercial service to St Helena from the outside world.
HE Governor Lisa Phillips greeted the 72 passengers as they disembarked the Embraer E190-100IGW aircraft whilst the majority of the island’s population watched from the viewing deck to witness this historic occasion.
Tour Operators from Eastcape Tours, Get Africa Travel, Springbok Atlas, and Island Holidays took the opportunity to take the first commercial flight to St Helena. Amongst the passengers were International media from the BBC, ITV, The Times, Thomson Reuters, Associated Press.
Shortly after the arrival a press conference with the visiting media (can be found here) took place in the terminal building. Eventually, the passengers made their way to their hotels and guesthouses which included some who are staying at the new Mantis Jamestown Hotel.
A full itinerary has been organized by the St Helena Tourist Office for the visitors which offers tours to some of the Islands tourist hotspots including a visit to Napoleon’s house, and marine tours on Sunday to see whales and Dolphins on the leeward side of the Island.
Enterprise St Helena and St Helena tourism had also scheduled various meetings to speak with investors who had arrived to look at opportunities here on the Island.
Governor Phillips invited arriving guests to a reception at plantation house to celebrate to what she describes as a proud and momentous occasion for St Helena.
The local community radio station Saint FM presented a special remote live broadcast from the arrivals terminal at the airport where they interview many passengers who just arrived on the aircraft. This broadcast was streamed live worldwide over the internet, which attracted hundreds of listeners.
Immediately after the landing social media sprang into life with live pictures and videos. The BBC broadcast their live report of the event on their world service and TV news at 10 back in Europe. The reporters described their amazing trip to the Island and a how St Helena would benefit from the commercial air service and also some history to the airport project.
This morning the marine tours operators departed the pier head with their visitors hoping to show off St Helena’s marine potential to the tourism market.
The flight is due to depart St Helena at 14.30 GMT Sunday the 15th October.
Today St Helena Government has announced that St Helena Line will withdraw the RMS St Helena from service in February 2018.
The RMS is now being offered for sale and London shipbroker CW Kellock & Co Ltd will handle the sale of the RMS to her new potential buyers.
The RMS St Helena has been in service for more than a quarter of a century and was built in 1990 in Aberdeen Scotland as a fit for purpose ship to serve St Helena Island in the South Atlantic.
The RMS as she is known as has a gross tonnage of 6,767 gross tonnes, and can accommodate 156 passengers in 56 cabins. The RMS St Helena was scheduled to be withdrawn from service in 2015 but due to the delay in the Islands airport opening and commencement of a commercial air service, she was forced to continue serving the island until an access solution was implemented. St Helena will now open its doors to commercial air travel on the 14 October 2017. The RMS St Helena will continue her final few voyages to the Island calling at St Helena, Ascension and a final voyage to Tristian da Cunha and it is hoped her the last voyage will end in Cape town on the 15 February 2018. Details of the sale of the RMS can be found on the RMS St Helena website. If you would like to travel on the RMS St Helena for the very last time more information can be found here
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 .
The reality of regular air travel to and from St Helena is only weeks away as a large percentage of the Islands population witnessed the first ever jet landing at St
Helena Island today. Incidentally the first ever aircraft to land at the Islands airport was a fixed wing prop driven Beechcraft Air King 200 which landed on Tuesday 15 September 2015 which was a calibration flight. This same aircraft returned again in December 2015 for a second calibration flight as the DVOR and other instrumentation was inappropriately sited and required relocation.
The Bombardier Challenger 300 business Jet tail number ZS-ACT approached the runway at exactly 11.30hrs GMT as keen photographers representing various organisations positioned themselves on Mole Spider Hill immediately behind the Terminal on a partially overcast Sunday morning and sought out what they thought would offer them the optimum viewing platform from which to photograph the first ever jet engine aircraft to land on St. Helena Island. The yell went…. “There it is”! The camera shutters almost sounded deafening for a few moments disturbed only by the onshore breeze which seemed to be
increasing for a while right before the 21m long aircraft was sighted. The Bombardier Challenger 300 glimmered momentarily in the sunlight as she banked to port and began her final decent and touched down. It took all of one full minute from the time that the aircraft was flying abreast of the rocky coastline to the landing, a perfect landing executed with precision.
Arriving on the flight was Justin Rothwell the team leader of the ASSI team along with Nigel Kirby from DFID, Nigel Kirby who is in charge of the Engineering of the Airport construction seen here in the red shirt also arrived said “Just over two hours ago I was in Africa and now I am on St. Helena Island. I have visited St Helena twenty times by ship in connection with the airport and today I have just landed by Jet Aircraft. It was a wonderful trip and what a smooth landing we had”
Three pilots and eight passengers will arrive on a bombardier challenger 300 business jet at The new St Helena Airport (HLE) this coming Sunday the 10th April 2016. The eight passenger’s arriving forms part of the airport
project, A team of five personal will also arrive from Air Safety Support International. Justin Rothwell from ASSI who is a senior aerodrome inspector will lead the team who will carry out a site audit of the new airport as part of the certification process. The bombardier 300 will conduct several take off and landings at the airport as part of the testing phase to test air traffic control and other related systems.
The arrival time is set for 11.30am on Sunday but this time will depend on the weather and departure time from Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg. It is anticipated that all work will be completed and the flight will leave St Helena on Friday morning 15th April. Air Safety Support International will issue a formal response about the certification of the St Helena Airport on completion of this visit. To have a look inside of the new St Helena airport please click here to see Darren Henrys in depth tour of the Amazing Airport terminal and facilities.