5 October 2021
Over the last few months a number of questions have been asked about St Helena Airport (HLE) and air access to the Island in general. As a result, St Helena Government’s (SHG) Sustainable Development Civil Aviation Team this week continues to provide answers to the frequently asked questions:
- Week 2: Who can fly to HLE, given the challenges
Technically, any airline can operate to St Helena
BUT our unusual operating requirements coupled with strict regulatory procedures will limit and possibly even deter airlines that could operate here. Obtaining sign-off for these strict procedures takes time to prepare, requires specific training and equipment, and costs money – all at a time when, during the pandemic, airline companies are trying to limit cash outflow. Notably, aircraft operators will need to satisfy at least five requirements for a route to be successful:
- They must have the technical capability to reach the Island (i.e. they must have the right aircraft)
- They must have the right logistics in place (e.g. fuel stops, diversions, trained Cat C pilots and crew, etc.)
- They must have the regulatory approvals in place (e.g. bilateral agreements, 5th freedom rights, etc. which may take time or may not even be granted)
- They must have the financial stability to absorb start-up and ongoing costs (e.g. upfront costs for delays that will require accommodation to be booked for inconvenienced passengers)
- And most importantly, the route must be commercially viable for them to make a profit (unless they are subsidised by a PSO – Public Service Obligation – to make it worthwhile in the first place to operate the route).
Given the unusual operating requirements, currently only two airlines can realistically fly to St Helena
SHG undertook a full study in 2018 and a refresh of this is in 2021.
In 2018, only a handful of airlines had the appropriate aircraft in their fleets (for example Airbus A318, Boeing B757 or B737-700), but some didn’t have either regulatory or the Extended Twin Engine Operations (ETOPS) approvals. Apart from Titan and Airlink, these included Air Namibia and TAAG of Angola. Air Namibia has since been liquidated and TAAG is banned from European airspace due to safety concerns.
Other UK-based operators of B757 would include Jet2 or TUI, but these aircraft will soon be retired from the fleets and Jet2 for example would not have ETOPS approvals.
This leaves Airlink and Titan.
There may be ‘startup’ airlines who might consider the route, but this would require huge investment (and risk) by SHG and the airline.
Unlike other airports around the world, only two aircraft can safely operate at HLE each day
Whilst HLE is open from 8am to 4pm on most days (and longer on flight days), requirements linked to ETOPS dictate the number of passenger aircraft that can arrive on any given day. In simple terms, once an aircraft has passed its Equal Time Point on its journey to the Island, the airspace in which it is flying must be sterile; that is to say, there must be no other aircraft in flight in the airspace until the arriving aircraft lands.
This requirement for sterile airspace, coupled with the weather window, limits the number of aircraft that could operate to St Helena on any one day.
Whilst the optimum weather window starts around lunchtime, if the weather is favourable, an earlier arrival at around 10.30am could be accommodated, along with an arrival of a second aircraft at around 1.30pm.
The first aircraft would then have to leave as close to 1.30pm as possible to allow it to pass its Equal Time Point before the second aircraft takes flight at around 3pm. In this way, two aircraft can be safely accommodated and be assured of sterile airspace.
If the second flight cannot take off until later, its chances of returning to the Airport in an emergency diminish due to the fading light of the early evening.
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5 October 2021