After a night of heavy dewfall St Helena woke up to a bright sunny day. Today was the 3rd May 2017 the day that another legacy will be made as St Helena awaited the arrival of the Avero RJ 85. It would appear that nothing would deter the many Islanders from making that long trip to the St Helena Airport to view this momentous flight touching down on runway 20.
This would be the maiden flight for a commercial aircraft to bring passengers to St Helena. The Avero RJ 85 operated by SA Air link safely landed with sixty passengers onboard, the majority of whom were returning Saints that were left stranded in South Africa after the Royal Mail Ship the RMS St. Helena developed a further problem with its starboard propeller.
The flight was also considered as a humanitarian one following the successful negotiations between the St Helena Government and DFID in London to address RMS passengers stranded in Capetown. After breaking down for the second time the RMS had to disembark its passengers and cargoes in Capetown and proceed to another dry dock in Simons Town.
The SA Airlink Avero RJ 85 touchdown at St. Helena at approximately 14.55 hours GMT with blue skies and wind speed of around 15mph registered on the runway. The landing of the SAAirlinkRJ-85 Flight SA8878 appear near perfect.
The Airport terminal building was teaming with excitement as approximately three hundred people watched the sixty passengers disembarked the aircraft from the restaurant viewing deck. It was said that the flight was smooth and pleasant, the passengers enjoyed the flight which took seven hours from Capetown via Namibia for a refuel.
Besides the family members of passengers arriving, many were just onlookers to witness this historic moment seeing the passengers stepping off the SA Airlink RJ-85 Jet and making their way to the terminal building. Following the disembarkation most onlookers and family members went to the arrival lounge to greet the arriving passengers.
The cleaning and refuelling of the aircraft took just under an hour the plane was ready to embark her passengers for the return flight to South Africa. As soon as its eighty seats were filled the engines were roaring into action proceeded down the runway ready for take-off.
This is another milestone for St. Helena and will be long remembered as the first aircraft to land with sixty passengers. It was said that the captain of the RJ-85 had no difficulty in landing the aircraft on runway 20 which is the end that is supposedly plagued by wind shear. Due to its design, this aircraft uses only a small portion of the runway for landing and take-offs and today was an outstanding performance by an Avero RJ 85.
Atlantic Star Airlines with Tronis jet also landed a similar type aircraft on St Helena last year without passengers. This also was a historic test flight that many onlookers enjoyed following the problematic flight by ComAir using the 737 .
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 Simons town drydock. 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 .
It has been made official that 120 passengers will enjoy the luxury of Comair’s brand new Aircraft a Boeing 737 -800 that will fly to St Helena from Johannesburg.
As mention in an early posting from this website the 737-800 Aircraft is the second-longest aircraft in the Boeing 737 range. It is known for its fuel efficiency and spacious seating plan. It is fitted with split-scimitar winglets – vertical wing tip extensions that reduce drag and provide lift, cutting fuel consumption and lowering the aircraft’s carbon footprint.
Although there has been no official schedule or airfares published, it is anticipated that the airport will gain its certification approval and will open in May 2016. For the St Helena Aircraft spotters the registration allocated to St Helena’s new Boeing Aircraft is ZS-ZWG.