SA Airlink has signed a three-year deal to provide scheduled services to St Helena Island using an Embraer E190 aircraft type which is viewed as the best potential solution to overcoming severe wind conditions.
The troubled airport built with £285 million of UK taxpayer’s cash was judged to be such a high risk project due to the turbulence and wind shear experienced on Runway 20 that its future was in jeopardy.
The airport had been due to start operating in May 2016. However, in April of that year, the St Helena Government said further safety and operational work was needed to address the impact of difficult wind conditions on landing aircraft safely.
An initial weekly service will this autumn be operated using an Embraer E190-100IGW aircraft in a two class configuration with the flight time from Johannesburg to St Helena being approximately 6hrs 15 mins including a half hour stop in Windhoek.
Airlink’s CEO and managing director Rodger Foster said a proving flight was being prepared with an inaugural service between St Helena Airport and OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, due to commence in October.
“Airlink is confident that our Embraer E190 ETOPS certified aircraft is most suited to the demanding environmental conditions prevalent at St Helena and that we will establish a safe and reliable air bridge between St Helena and South Africa – thereby creating air linkages between St Helena and the rest of the world by way of the interconnectivity offered at Johannesburg.”
Airlink will also operate a monthly charter service between St Helena and Ascension Island.
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 2 December, 2016.
The flight, carrying 11 crew, including two SA Airlink pilots, arrived from Recife, Brazil, and made a smooth landing on Runway 02 from the south.
As planned, the Embraer aircraft completed a variety of landings, take-offs and circuits at St Helena airport. 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 a scheduled air service could operate.
The Embraer aircraft completed a number of successful landings and take-offs from the north (Runway 20) – together with a number of planned ‘touch and goes’, where the aircraft briefly touches down before powering up for take-off. The touch and go manoeuvre allows the pilot to assess a landing without the time taken for a conventional landing.
Fly-bys and approaches at different angles were carried out to check the wind conditions and approach paths. The aircraft also conducted climbs from the airport at various angles. Air traffic control actively assisted these trials by giving the necessary weather data and other information to the aircraft.
Over the two days at the airport, the Embraer team experienced a variety of wind conditions, including turbulence on Runway 20.