St Helena: Flights to remote Atlantic island begin at last
The first scheduled commercial airline flight to the remote British island of St Helena in the south Atlantic is to land shortly.
A plane from South Africa is expected to touch down in the new airport, ending the island’s reliance on a ship once every three weeks.
It is hoped the service, funded by the UK, will boost tourism and help make St Helena more self-sufficient.
But British media have dubbed it “the most useless airport in the world”.
Built with £285m ($380m) of funding from the UK Department for International Development (Dfid), it should have opened last year but dangerous wind conditions delayed the launch.
After further trials this summer the weekly service between Johannesburg and St Helena was passed as safe.
Up until now, the British territory has been one of the world’s most inaccessible locations, only served by the ship from South Africa.
It is chiefly known as the island where French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled and died after his defeat in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
An Embraer E190-100IGW aircraft operated by SA Airlink is due to land at 13:15 GMT on Saturday, carrying 78 passengers.
The flight is scheduled to take six hours and 15 minutes including a stop in the Namibian capital, Windhoek.
“I for one am getting really excited about the new chapter in St Helena’s history,” said St Helena governor Lisa Phillips.
“I am sure everyone will give this first flight a huge St Helena welcome.”
Previously travel to and from the tiny island with its population of just 4,255 was only possible on the RMS St Helena, which took around six days to complete the journey from South Africa.
The ship’s final voyage is scheduled for February.
St Helena relies on British aid of £52m a year and officials hope increased tourism will make it more self-sufficient.
“This is an important moment in St Helena’s route to self-sufficiency,” a Dfid spokeswoman said.
“It will boost its tourism industry, creating the opportunity to increase its revenues, and will bring other benefits such as quicker access to healthcare for those living on the island.”
According to a report in The Guardian, the island’s diverse geology and wildlife, such as the whales that gather off its coast, may appeal to visitors, and it notes that Rupert’s Bay harbour is being developed to allow cruise ships to dock.
But “more flights will have to be added if the airport is to be deemed a success – and not an expensive white elephant”, it adds.