SA Air­link to fly route to St He­lena

CityPress - - Business - ABRIE BURGER busi­ness@city­press.co.za

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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