The remote British island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic will finally be connected by air to the rest of the world on June 2016, when world gets just little smaller South Africa’s Comair starts to fly weekly to the island’s new airport with a Boeing B737-800 from Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, 1,985 nm/3,672 Km (4:30 flight) to the northwest, and the closest appropriate alternate airport is Luanda, Angola making it the farthest alternate in the world at 1,190 nm (2,201 Km) to the east.
Saint Helena is the most populated remote island in the world without an air service today, this will change come June 2016, when its 4,250 residents will finally be connected to the rest of the world by South Africa’s Comair with a initial weekly Boeing B737-800 service from Johannesburg, South Africa.
This construction of the new airport on Saint Helena by South Africa’s engineering group Basil Read (Pty) Ltdis significant to the 4,250 local inhabitants who till now had were limited to a 5 days sailing journey every 3 weeks to/from Cape Town in South Africa on the 156 passenger (NOTE: same passenger capacity as the B737-800) 344 foot long, 6,767 gross ton RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Saint Helena, which has been the islanders life line (food, gasoline, household good, travel off the island) since 1990. The ship also calls on the other remote islands of Ascension (800 inhabitants) and Tristan da Cunha (285 inhabitants), but much less frequently.
The island of Saint Helena is the second oldest remaining British Overseas Territory after Bermuda, and most famous for being the final destination for fallen French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. The last residence of the Emperor was Longwood House on Saint Helena, where he died on May 5, 1821 at the age of 51.
His Excellency, Napoleon Bonaparte the Emperor of France (ABOVE PHOTO-LEFT), was sentenced into exile to Saint Helena after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the last 6 years of his life were spent at his residence at Longwood House (ABOVE PHOT-RIGHT), many tourists will come to Saint Helena to see where one of histories “great leaders” lived and died hidden from the rest of the world, till now.
As a history and political science major, I have always wanted to visit Saint Helena, a beautiful island,that really needed this airport to bring growth to the island through more tourism and better trade conditions. Over the course of my 30 years in the aviation business, I have seen several plans to provide Saint Helena with some sort of air service, but nothing came of it, and somewhere in my possession I have a study of using the Japanese Shin Meiwa US-1 four engine (Allison 501’s) amphibian.
In fact the South African Air Force (SAAF) has been looking at building some kind of airport on Saint Helena since 1943, but not till 2011 was the go ahead given by the UK Government for the $US 306 million ($72,500 per islander) to start construction of the 1,850 meter (6,100 foot) long runway, though only 1,550 meters available for landing.
We take air service for granted in today’s world, and yet places like Saint Helena with a reasonable population have done without it, and it is another step in connecting a remote communities to the rest of the world.
The new Saint Helena Airport under construction on the east side of the island (2 PHOTOS ABOVE)
The island is remote by any standard, 4,044 nm from London, 1,190 nm from Luanda, Angola its closest international airport, which will surely be its alternate airport, as Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island 800 nm to the northwest is a UK military base and closed to commercial traffic, it is used to support British troops in the Falkland Islands. The B737-800 will have to carry fuel for the 1,985 nm to Saint Helena and then for the 1,190 nm alternate and holding fuel, which is 3,175 nm, near the maximum range of 3,115 for a fully loaded 800. The B737-Max8 will have a max. range of 3,620 nm.
Some of the beautiful scenery found on Saint Helena (PHOTOS ABOVE)
So the Comair will undertake this weekly service, it presently has 2 x B737-800’s, and has 4 on order for 2015-2016 in a 20C and 138Y configuration as well as having 8 x B737-Max8’s on order. Currently Comair has 5 x B737-300’s, 11 x B737-400’s for a total of 18 aircraft, and operates as LCC (low cost carrier) Kulula.com and a British Airways partner in South Africa, with some aircraft in BA livery.
Comair, operates as a low cost carrier (LCC) Kulula.com (ABOVE PHOTO-LEFT) and as a British Airways franchise partner in South Africa (ABOVE PHOTO-RIGHT)
Assuming the island has propensity to travel of 1.0 per population, which for a remote island would be very conservative, it means at least 4,250 local passengers per year, so with a weekly flight, that means at least 82 passengers per flight, leaving 76 seats per flight (158 seats on Comair’s B737-800’s) for tourists which will surely come in much larger numbers than before. Cargo will also be carried, but will be payload limited, as the flight will not be able to carry full passenger load and cargo load, but with a average 75% load factor one should be able to carry at least 8,000 lbs. of freight.
ETOPS (extended twin engine operations) will be required, which is something Comair does not have experience with now.
I would invite anyone reading this to look at travelling to Saint Helena, and visting this remote island of great beauty, it has never been easy, but June of next year it will be very easy, and surely worth the trip.
As a side note, for those that like me are intrigues by remote inhabited islands with no air access, there are still places on this planet that might as well be on Mars, so remote, no air strips, no port of call and very time consuming to get to, that they have their own appeal for some adventurous travelers.
- Tristan da Cunha, part of the same British Overseas Territory (BTO) as Saint Helena, is 2,000 km from Saint Helena, 2,400 km from the nearest continental landmass, and has 280 inhabitants, only 8 surnames and 80 families and TV since 2001, and it is located at 37-11′-67″ S and 12-28′-33″ W.
- Pitcairn Island, in the South Pacific, east of Tahiti and is a British BTO, with 56 inhabitants, who are the descendants of the famous HMS Bounty mutiny in 1789, it is very remote and hard to get to, located at 25-04′-00″ S and 130-06″-00″ W.
- Palmerston Island, a small island in the South Pacific, 500 Km NW of Rarotong, Cook Islands again a British island, it has 62 inhabitants most descended from one man 150 years ago and is supplied by a ship twice a year, located at 18-04’00” S and 163-10′-00″ W.
- Kerguelen Island, is a French Overseas Territory in the south Indian Ocean, 3,300 km from nearest populated center and has 45 (winter) to 110 (summer) inhabitants, and are located at 49-25′-00″ S and 69-16′-67″ E.
I am delighted that modern technology has made the new airport on Saint Helena possible, that we have aircraft today that can travel so far out into the ocean and have the reserves for an alternate, and improve the lives of 4,250 people who in June 2016 will join the modern world with their 1st air service connection, which will improve the quality of life on the island and improve its sustainable economy and open it up to new tourism.
NOTE: British Overseas Territory (BTO) today has 14 ‘colonies/territories’ with a combined population of 350,000+ and a land mass of 1,727,570 km2, and it comprises the following:
Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antartic Territory, British Indian Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena/Ascension/Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Turks and Caisos Islands, while Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have a different relationship with the Crown.
Sadly the British Indian Overseas Territory (BIOT) which is known as the Chagos Islands (60 km2), largest being Diego Garcia (44 km2), today a large military base with two parallel 12,000 foot long runways for B-52G’s and B-1 bombers, and a deep water port. The only inhabitants today are 1,700 UK/US military and 1,500 civilian personnel, as between 1968 to 1973 the 2,000 Chagossians were forcibly expelled to Mauritius to make room for this ‘secret’ military outpost.
Today those Chagossians live as poor refugees on Mauritius longing to return to their home and Mauritius now claims those islands as its own, but getting nowhere with the UK government on that. The treatment of the Chagossians is a sad disgrace on how the UK treats one of its own colonies, a sharp contrast to the generous treatment of Saint Helena, the Falkland Islands and other BTO’s a lot smaller than BIOT.
So put a visit to Saint Helena on your bucket list, you won’t be disappointed ! and thank you for reading my blog, cheers.