Sunday, 20 October 2013

Anyone for a Flight to St Helena?

Article on Atlantic Star Airline, St Helena Independent 18th October 2013

Before leaving for a meeting of the Friends of St Helena in London yesterday, about which perhaps more some other time, I read the above article by Vince Thompson in the St Helena Independent.

Apparently Captain Andy Radford of Atlantic Star Airline is hopeful, confident even, that his compasny will be the preferred supplier of air services to St Helena. At the moment Atlantic Star has no planes, but plans to lease a single Boeing 757.

The proposed initial route is Gatwick or Stansted - Madrid - St Helena - Cape Town, and then back again, once a week, with monthly flights to Ascension.

Atlantic Star thinks that a Boeing 757 is the right choice for St Helena's short runway, and it would propose to adapt its plane to allow it to carry more fuel, necessary given the distance of backup airports from St Helena.

Boeing 757: soon to be a regular sight on St Helena?

The plane would then have a reduced capacity of 120 passengers. Although the 757 is no longer in production, Atlantic Star is confident it can find one to lease. In the unlikely event that the 757 ever breaks down then no worries, Atlantic Star will sign a contract with a company that specialises in providing backup in cases of technical difficulties!

Atlantic Star hopes by the end of 2017 to be able to run two flights a week. So, best case scenario, that would make 240 passengers from Europe per week, and 240 from South Africa, making an annual total of almost 25,000 tourists if all the planes were full, and none of the passengers were Saints or expatriates returning to live or work on St Helena. Those are rather fanciful assumptions, which illustrates just how big a task it will be to get the 50,000 tourists a year that Government plans anticipate. Crucial of course will be the cost of flights, and Atlantic Star anticipates that it will be no more and hopefully less than a current Fly/Sail package between the UK and St Helena, which for the very cheapes berths on the RMS St Helena would I think currently be around £1600 via Ascencion Island.

Atlantic Star's plans require a Government subsidy for the first five years or so. No indication is given of how big this would be, and I am unclear whether such a subsidy is included within the £250 million the British Government has allocated to build and run the airport for 10 years.

Frankly I am a little underwhelmed by this. It is beginning to look to me as if the new airport will have plenty of spare capacity for the private jets and military aircraft that a number of sceptics have predicted. A respected member of the Friends of St Helena told me yesterday that he expects the RMS St Helena to be with us for rather longer than the Government is currently admitting.

I hope this pessimism is without foundation, but anyway we should get a clearer idea of the St Helena Government's plans by the middle of 2014.


John said...

Not being an airline person I'm not sure this is possible but it would be helpful if the St Helena and Falkland Is flights could be merged - I understand the latter carried live ammunition etc so it may not be possible to operate as a normal civilian service but a twice weekly flight from UK to Ascension, St Helena and then on to the Falklands - with a separate weekly flight from Cape Town that connects at St Helena would provide all the links the island needs in a fairly cost effective manner.

A once a week flight by an operator with no other services is never going to be an economic use of resources. If the service requires a subsidy it will have to go out to tender anyway - depending on how the tender is organised could see a South African operator interested in the Cape Town - St Helena service - could also run onto Ascension connecting with the Falklands/UK flight.

Dont see the airport ever being used by military - runway is too short to make it of any strategic use - but I'm sure there will be a number of private jets coming through - given the cost and difficulty in getting to the island even with an airport it could well become a celebrity hideout.

Keeping on the RMS will not happen

John Tyrrell said...

Interesting post. I think Ascension Island is the big problem - it is a military airport under US control, and I don't think you could depend on it for regular flights to St Helena. It would make sense to allow passengers tfrom the UK o change there from a larger plane to one suited to St Helena's airport, but it is not I think going to happen.
If the airport is used mainly for provate jets then the Government's whole strategy, which depends on tourism, will have failed.
Re the RMS St Helena I was informed by SHG that it will continue to run for some time after the airport opens (3-6 months), and of course it belongs to the St Helena Government, and what it does with it then is for it to decide nearer the time. My informant at the FOSH meeting was not suggesting that the RMS will run indefinitely, but that it will take longer than anticipated to get satisfactory air links running, and he also told me that the Government have recently spent a lot of money on the RMS, for safety reasons I think. Whether it had any choice is another matter.