The start of a scheduled service at the £285m St Helena airport just drew a big step closer after a trial flight

 
Abigail Smith
The island has just 4,200 inhabitants
The island has just 4,200 inhabitants (Source: St Helena Tourism)

A test flight by South African airline Airlink with an Embraer jet has successfully landed its test flight to St Helena airport today, signalling a big step towards the start of a new scheduled service for the remote island.

The trial flight is to prove to South African authorities that the plane can safely service the route from Johannesburg via Windhoek in Namibia to St Helena.

Read more: Take off draws closer for flight plans from St Helena's £285m airport

Airlink said that once it gets approval from the authorities, it will then move ahead with flight bookings, with further details on fares yet to be announced.

A new service would prove a considerable tourism boost for the island, making it more accessible to reach, but progress at the airport has not been without its turbulence.

St Helena airport, which cost £285m to build, has been plagued by issues of wind shear since its opening last year. There were hopes that services would begin last May, but residents of the island were left sorely disappointed, as large aircraft have found it difficult to land there.

The flight today was comprised of around 35 passengers, a mixture of Airlink senior management and members of the South African Civil Aviation Authority. The government is aiming for the flights to run weekly, with scope to become more frequent as demand grows.

At present, the south Atlantic island can be reached by a five day voyage on the RMS Saint Helena. One of the last operational Royal Mail ships, the RMS Saint Helena is likely to be retired if the commercial flights are a success.

When the deal with Airlink was announced last month, St Helena governor Lisa Phillips said 2017 was "the year of positive change for St Helena".

The start of scheduled air services will mean St Helena "will be able to welcome tourists here in larger numbers and improve the economy of the island and offer a better life for those who live here", she added.

Read more: St Helena aims for tourism boost despite airport woes

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