Delays drag on as St Helena opens tenders for commercial flights again

2016-12-08 08:33 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Town - The St Helena Government (SHG) has reopened the process to procure to secure an air service provider or providers to the Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.

In March last year, the Island announced that final negotiations were underway for Comair to fly once a week from Johannesburg to a new airport due to open in 2016.

But due to various issues with technical issues and unsatisfactory testing, there has been indefinite delays to the official take-off of commercial flights. 

Now, despite the preliminary arrangements with Comair, SHG is again seeking to award a contract a suitably qualified organisation or organisations to provide regular air services to the Island, including a direct service between St Helena and Ascension Island to meet the needs of Saints and their employers on Ascension Island and the Falkland Islands, the government announced on Wednesday, 7 December. 

The requirement is for a minimum of a weekly flight, operating throughout the year, to a recognised international hub airport or to an airport with direct connections to the UK or South Africa.  

According to Susan van der Ryst, corporate communications manager at Comair, the operator had to re-evaluate their position following the first tests flights. 

"Data from this flight and circuits which were flown while the aircraft was at St Helena indicated that more work needs to be done to mitigate turbulence and windshear on the approach," Van der Ryst told Traveller24.

"A task team of all relevant stakeholders has been assembled to gather further information on weather conditions and consider all possible mitigation options. We remain committed to ensuring a safe and reliable air service to St Helena island, whatever our role in that service may ultimately be," she says. 

Earlier this year, the St Helena Airport Project announced that the Airport Code HLE has been designated for St Helena Airport by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

SEE: New St Helena Airport gets official IATA code

IATA assigns unique three-letter codes to identify airports, for use by airlines and computer reservation systems. Therefore, passengers due to fly to and from St Helena Airport will find the code HLE on their documentation, boarding passes and baggage labels. 

The SHG says they are keen to put in place a contract with a provider that offers the best possible air service for the Island, or indeed with a number of providers, whose combined services would ensure full access.

Part of the hold-up with the commencing of commercial flights on the Island was the difficult location and alignment of the runway. 

For the new round of tenders, the SHG highlighted that they will appoint an operator using an aircraft type capable of landing on the southern approach, which involves a tailwind component. 

"This,"  they say, " will only be for a period of time, while we continue to explore the potential for scheduled services into the northern approach."  

The St Helena Government says they hope to appoint a final contract by the end of May 2017. The closing date for tenders is on Friday 27 January 2017.

Further to the new tenders that have been opened, an Embraer ERJ-190-100 jet aircraft, operated by Embraer Commercial Aviation as a non-commercial trial and demonstration flight, visited St Helena Airport between 30 November and Friday 2 December. The flight, carrying 11 crew, including two SA Airlink pilots, arrived from Recife, Brazil, and made a smooth landing at the new airport. 

This aircraft type is one of a number of potential solutions to operating regular flights to St Helena, the SHG announced.

This flight generated considerable real time data which, together with a pilot’s report, will help St Helena Airport build a more comprehensive picture of the conditions under which we will be asking a scheduled air service to operate.

Over the two days at the Airport, the Embraer team experienced a variety of wind conditions, including turbulence. Work is continuing to understand and mitigate the turbulence and wind shear experienced at the problematic areas at the airport.  

Due to the delays, the SHG also announce the extension of the RMS St Helena service beyond 1 July 2017. 

SEE: RMS St Helena 2017 extension confirmed

Once scheduled commercial air services are fully established, the RMS will no longer be necessary and this service will terminate. 


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