South Africa Airlink will offer scheduled commercial air services to St Helena when it starts flights between South Africa and the island later this year.
This follows a period of contractual negotiations between St Helena government and the airline.
Initially Airlink is expected to offer a weekly Saturday service to-and-from South Africa to St Helena using the new Embraer E190-100IGW ETOPS certified aircraft that has already undertaken a number of very successful test flights to the island.
To begin with, the maximum number of seats available on each flight will be 76.
Currently the aircraft is planned to depart Johannesburg each Saturday morning at 09:00 and fly to Windhoek in Namibia where it will refuel and connect with an incoming Airlink service from Cape Town that will have departed at 10:30.
Passengers will then fly on to St Helena landing on the Island at 13:15.
Total flight time from Johannesburg and Cape Town to St Helena will be just over six hours, including the stop at Windhoek.
Flight time from Windhoek to St Helena is three hours and 45 minutes.
The return flight to South Africa will depart on Saturdays from St Helena at 14:30 and again fly to Windhoek where passengers will be able to connect with an Airlink service to Cape Town or fly on to Johannesburg.
The flight is expected to arrive back in Johannesburg at 22:30 local time with the connecting passengers landing in Cape Town at 23:00.
“Scheduled air services are what is needed to build a sustainable tourism industry on St Helena,” explained St Helena director of tourism, Christopher Pickard.
“As much as we are going to miss the RMS St Helena, not everyone has two weeks to travel to and from the Island by ship.
“The Airlink service connects the major hubs of Cape Town and Johannesburg to St Helena in hours, rather than days, and we now hope that many of the people who visit South Africa, as well as South Africans, will consider adding St Helena as a destination to their trip.
“It is an experience they won’t forget or regret.”
On the second Saturday of each month the flight will continue on from St Helena as a chartered service to Ascension Island.
The plane will stay overnight on Ascension returning to St Helena on Sunday to offer a matching flight schedule as Saturday, for passengers returning to South Africa or connecting with flights to the rest of the world.
Airlink is currently finalising regulatory approval with the South African Civil Aviation Authority, and following the necessary approvals and proving flight, St Helena government will be able to announce the commencement date of services as well as fares and the confirmed flight schedule.
As demand and interest in St Helena grows, Airlink and St Helena government hope to add other weekly flights to the schedule.
Airlink chief executive, Rodger Foster, said: “We are delighted to have reached this milestone and are extremely excited to be preparing for the proving flight and the inaugural flight shortly after.
“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.
“We are pleased to be able to connect both Cape Town and Johannesburg to St Helena by way of designed flight coordination at Windhoek - we acknowledge that Cape Town is an important destination for Saints and we recognise that Cape Town enjoys significant tourism visitations growing at thirty percent annually which could become an important source market for St Helena’s tourism aspirations.”
St Helena Airport has been operational since May 2016, but Airlink will offer the first scheduled air service to the remote island.
Prior to this the airport has catered primarily to charter and medevac flights and the island only reachable by tourists after a five night voyage up from Cape Town on the iconic RMS St Helena, the last working Royal Mail Ship.