WELCOME EMPRESS OF LONDON CITY | Darrin Henry
Everyone expected this to be normal by now, but in November 2016 an aircraft landing on St Helena is still big news, especially today’s arrival of an Embraer passenger jet from Recife, Brazil, and the little wave of optimism it will surely bring.
The Trouble With Wind Shear
Wind shear continues to prevent a scheduled air service being able to operate at St Helena’s brand new airport. The severity of the problem was revealed during a Comair 737-800 test flight in April this year and since then investigations have been ongoing to find a workable solution.
Small jets have been able to use the airport, landing with a tail wind from the less problematic end of the runway, known as 02 (zero, two).
Today’s Embraer flight is a non-commercial trial flight, operated by Embraer Commercial Aviation. The plan is to stay for two days during which time they will carry out a series of take-off and landings.
In a press statement St Helena Government announced the “Embraer aircraft is one of a number of potential solutions to operating regular flights to St Helena.”
Last month another passenger jet, an AVRO RJ100, organised by Atlantic Star Airlines, carried out a successful trial flight, then laid out their proposal to provide an air service using that type of airplane.
That October trial flight had boosted spirits on the island as information about an air service in the preceding months had been sparse.
This Embraer flight is more pleasing news for islanders, raising hopes again that a practical solution to achieving scheduled flights might not be far off.
Flight Day Is Picnic Day
To capture the landing we’ve climbed to the top of a hill called Bencoolen (according to the St Helena map) not somewhere we’ve come before. It’s at the southern end of the runway, overlooking Sharks Valley.
As usual with this type of shoot we’ve arrived really early, an hour and a half ahead of the published ETA, just in case. It’s becoming a regular thing, so much so we even have a routine now – get here early, set up the cameras, get comfortable and have a picnic!
My dad has joined us today, toting his Nikon camera! What can you do?
The weather today isn’t great. It was raining a bit when we arrived and cloud cover was low, almost obstructing our view of the airport. Could this be our first airport/flight assignment when the weather beat us? Although it’s stayed grey, luckily the rain stopped and the fog lifted.
The time whizzes by and soon it’s nearly 3.30pm and we are all standing to attention, gazing out above the horizon, straining our ears and eyes to spot the plane – we hear it before we see it.
The Jet From Brazil From London
Out of the grey sky it appears, landing lights twinkling away, an Embraer ERJ-190-100.
After all this waiting the event itself passes quickly, but we’re ready. Sharon is filming, I’m shooting stills and the Nikon man is clicking away nearby.
Video of Embraer ERJ-190-100 landing on St Helena Airport
The Embraer is soon flying right by us. In fact, from our viewpoint on top of Bencoolen we’re actually now looking down on the plane. The blue and white livery is eye-catching and I can clearly see a big Union Jack on the side, not what I had expected. Brazilian, maybe, but this is a surprise. ‘Empress Of London City’ is written near the front with a London skyline silhouette image.
(Research later revealed the Embraer aircraft operate out of London City Airport and interestingly, in 2009/10, their introduction was hailed as a new generation jet to replace the AVRO series. We had just seen the AVRO last month.)
Skimming ever so close across the top of the earth fill that makes up the landing strip run-off, the Embraer glides gracefully over the end of the runway, then touches down almost on top of the ‘zero-two’ numerals painted on the tarmac.
Wheels down at 15:36 by my camera’s time stamp.
Total flight time from Recife, 3hrs 58min (Flightradar24)
Just like the AVRO last month, this landing looks smooth to my (untrained) eye. No evidence of the wind shear induced ‘wobble’ we all tend to look for now. The wind sock near the landing zone is not quite fully horizontal but it’s showing a steady breeze. It will be interesting to find out what the wind speed is.
So, a second successful, ‘large’ jet landing from the ‘tail wind’ end of the runway. Tomorrow they will be doing some test circuits before heading back to Recife on Friday.
It’s nearly Christmas. Let’s hope Santa’s flight might touchdown here with some good news about the results of these Embraer trial flights! Now that would be a nice present.