Atlantic Star Airlines will next week open reservations for the start of a series of scheduled charter flights between the UK and St Helena from spring next year, subject to the final certification of the tropical island’s brand new airport. The virtual airline has joined forces with tour operator TUI to serve this market using a Boeing 737-800 of its Dutch division, Arkefly.
The airline confirms that tickets for flights between London Gatwick and St Helena will go on sale at midday on November 2, 2015. These flights, operated initially as charters, will be allocated the flight number ‘OR1502’ for the southbound flight, reflecting the year St Helena was discovered, and ‘OR2002’ for the northbound flight, the year that citizens of the British Overseas Territories became British Citizens.
Total journey time, including a short refuelling stop in Banjul, Gambia for the 737-800, will be under 12 hours. UK originating travellers will be able to depart late evening and arrive in St Helena the following morning. Return flights will leave St Helena early morning to arrive into the UK in the evening of the same day.
"I am thrilled to be at the point where we can finally realise our ambition of creating a service to serve St Helena tourism and Saints the world over. We have received many messages of support for our concept of a direct service to London - now is the time for Saints and tourism providers to back our service by jumping on our historic first flights,” said Andrew Radford, director, Atlantic Star Airlines.
It is understood that the initial flights will be conducted as a pair, with the first round trip operating around the middle of March 2016, and the second a fortnight later in early April 2016, to coincide with the Easter holidays. By choosing this pattern of flights resident Saints will be able to enjoy a two-week stay in England, similarly visitors to St. Helena will be able to enjoy a fortnight on the island.
St Helena is currently widely regarded as the world's most inaccessible inhabited island, but all this will change in February 2016 with the opening of the first airport on St Helena. The tropical island in the South Atlantic Ocean is Britain's second oldest remaining of the British Overseas Territories, after Bermuda, but accessibility has been limited to an almost week long sea journey.
Located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, more than 2,000 kilometres from the nearest major landmass, Saint Helena is one of the most remote places in the world. The nearest port on the continent is Namibe in Southern Angola, and the nearest international airport the Quatro de Fevereiro Airport of Angola's capital Luanda. It is currently linked to the world by RMS St Helena which sails between the island and Cape Town, a five day adventure across, at times, rough seas.
The construction of an international airport is a major development for the island. Long rumoured and discussed, the British Government finally announced its plan to construct the facility in March 2005 for completion in 2010. However, the financial crisis and delays with consultations meant that it was not until November 2011 that an agreement was reached with a South African contractor to build the international lifeline.
The project aims to provide air services to St Helena, fulfilling the UK Government’s commitment to maintaining access to the island, and at the same time providing St Helena with a real opportunity for economic growth through tourism. Both the St Helena Government and the UK Government believe this will lead to eventual financial self-sustainability for St Helena.
The Island’s Government earlier this year announced the appointment of South African carrier Comair as the preferred bidder for the provision of scheduled air services to St Helena. The company operates under its low-fare airline brand, kulula.com, as well as under the British Airways livery as part of its license agreement with British Airways.
Comair is proposing a weekly flight between Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport and St Helena using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The flight time from Johannesburg to St Helena will be about four and a half hours. Through Comair’s partnerships with numerous international airlines, the St Helena air service will offer connections to the international route network, via Johannesburg, to destinations such as London, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney and Hong Kong.
Air links to St Helena will be a very niche market and a study by The Journey Tourism and Enterprise St Helena, a body set up by the St Helena Government to drive forward tourism and economic development, for the air service tender suggests that through organic growth visitor numbers to the island should rise from around 1,400 to 2,000 a year between 2016 and 2020. However, a medium growth scenario and the development of a single 45 bedroom hotel on the island could see visitor numbers grow as high as 7,700 by 2020.