…Flight lands 45 minutes late
South Atlantic Ocean – The first ever scheduled flight to British overseas territory St Helena has landed but was 45 minutes late. The UK taxpayer-funded development on the remote South Atlantic island welcomed its first 78 commercial airline passengers at just before 2 pm on Saturday. The flight from South Africa landed 45 minutes behind schedule.
The territories official Twitter account shared images of huge crowds gathered to welcome the flight and described it as “a big moment for all”. St Helena Airport, built with £285 million of funding from the Department for International Development (Dfid), was due to open last year but the launch of commercial flights was delayed because of dangerous wind conditions.
Further trials were carried out in August and the airport was given the go-ahead to begin operations by South African aviation authorities. Airlink’s Embraer E190-100IGW aircraft was due to land at 1.15pm local time (2.15pm BST) on Saturday but ended up touching down at 1.58pm (2.58pm BST).
Flights between St Helena – situated 1,200 miles off the west coast of Africa – and Johannesburg will take six hours and 15 minutes including a stop in Windhoek, Namibia. Travel to and from the island has previously only been possible by ship, with RMS St Helena taking around six days to complete the journey from South Africa. Its final voyage on the route will take place in February.
UK officials hope the improved accessibility will boost tourism and help make the island self-sufficient. St Helena currently receives £52 million in aid from the UK each year. The air link will also make it easier for islanders to access specialist medical care as well as education and employment opportunities.
A Government spokesman said: “Since her appointment, the Secretary of State Priti Patel has taken concrete steps to get the airport up and running. “This is an important moment in St Helena’s route to self-sufficiency.
“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.” A damning report by MPs published in December last year found that the airport project “unquestionably failed” the British taxpayer and the residents of the island.
MPs on the influential Public Accounts Committee said it was “staggering” that ministers and officials did not foresee the problem with wind.