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Flights To St Helena: 8 Things We Know About The St Helena Air Service Tender

St Helena Air Service Tender - The Basil Read, Bombardier Challenger 300 business jet at St Helena Airport - the first jet plane to land on St Helena.

St Helena Air Service Tender – The Basil Read, Bombardier Challenger 300 business jet at St Helena Airport – the first jet plane to land on St Helena.

WHICH AIRLINE FOR ST HELENA? | Darrin Henry

(Click Here for our latest St Helena Airport stories)

The clock is ticking; the deadline for bids to provide an air service to St Helena closed two days ago on Monday (6 February) which means in less than three months the island should know the identity of the successful airline(s) – if indeed that information is made public.

Selection of the preferred bidder for the St Helena Air Service Tender is due on 28 April, 2017.

The nitty gritty of the operational details will then be negotiated and agreed before a signed contract is due by 31 May, 2017.

St Helena Airport will hopefully get very busy during 2017, soon after the new air service contract is signed at the end of May.

St Helena Airport will hopefully get very busy during 2017, soon after the new air service contract is signed at the end of May.

This is good news for an island that has been in limbo for nearly a year now, ever since wind shear wobbled a British Airways 737-800 implementation flight in April, 2016 causing the grand opening of the newly constructed airport to be postponed and the cancellation of a royal visit.

The news made headlines across the world. Reacting to this adverse publicity the powers-that-be decided minimal information sharing was the way to avoid further negative headlines as work began to solve the wind shear problem.

Even Legislative Council members on St Helena were banned from sharing airport news with the public. As a result everyone connected with St Helena, both on island and around the world, is desperate for news of what’s going on with the airport.

So this St Helena Air Service Tender process is not just good news – it’s great news. After a long period of uncertainty people finally have clear targets to focus on once more and tentative planning can begin again.

The big question, and our first point of eight is:

1 – Who Is Bidding To Operate Air Services For St Helena?

The Atlantic Star/Tronos, Avro RJ100 taking off from St Helena Airport, against the rising landmark of Prosperous Bay House.

The Atlantic Star/Tronos, Avro RJ100 taking off from St Helena Airport, against the rising landmark of Prosperous Bay House. St Helena Air Service Tender

Which airline will provide the island’s first ever commercial service? Well this is what we know for sure.

Atlantic Star Airlines, led by CEO, Richard Brown, has confirmed they submitted a bid.

Marketing and Sales for SA Airlink, based in South Africa, have also confirmed to us that they submitted a bid.

Comair in South Africa, the original selected airline pre-wind shear, are not bidding for this new tender. Stuart Cochrane, Executive Manager Business Processes for Comair has confirmed the company are not tendering a bid but also told us the “original contract remains in place.

It would appear there are at least two definite bids on the table. St Helena Government (SHG) have said it “has been encouraged by the response” to the tender process, which suggests there might be more. However, they are not confirming names or numbers or anything else until the process has been completed.

While we wait there are still some interesting points about the bids to think about. Most of this comes directly from SHG’s, “Information Memorandum – Request for Proposal” document, which is what potential airlines would have relied on to prepare their bids.

2 – How Many Flights To St Helena Per Week

The Embraer E190 flying test circuits at St Helena in December 2016. St Helena Air Service Tender

The Embraer E190 flying test circuits at St Helena in December 2016. St Helena Air Service Tender

The ‘Request For Proposal’ document asked for:

A minimum single weekly frequency from an airport capable of offering non-stop service beyond to the key markets of the UK and South Africa.

A maximum of a single technical stop between St Helena and the selected gateway, in each direction.

I understand a ‘technical stop’ to mean a ‘refuelling stop.’ Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, I’m sure.

3 – How Many Passengers For St Helena

Hundreds of volunteers turned out in April 2016 to assist with passenger readiness trials at the new airport. This scene in the departures lounge will hopefully be played out for real before long.

Hundreds of volunteers turned out in April 2016 to assist with passenger readiness trials at the new airport. This scene in the departures lounge will hopefully be played out for real before long.

This one is quite interesting. Operators who bid for the contract have been given guidelines for the number of passengers they might be expected to carry.

5,000 annual return passengers per year for year 1, growing by 10% in year 2 (or 5,500 in year 2).

This works out at 96 passengers per week.

As it happens, during my interview with Embraer Test Pilot, Joel Faermann, in December, it was revealed the Embraer E190 can carry 96 passengers. Could this mean the tender is aimed at the Embraer aircraft? Hmmm. Mind you, perhaps that’s a standard seating capacity, I don’t know!

The ‘Request For Proposal’ also suggests, A split of passenger demand (to permit comparisons between Bidder submissions) of 70% having a final origin or destination in the UK and 30% in South Africa.

This translates to approximately 67 of the 96 weekly passengers coming from the UK. All best-guess figures, of course.

4 – What About Flights To Ascension Island

The Falklands Air Bridge flight soon after landing at Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island in 2009.

The Falklands Air Bridge flight soon after landing at Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island in 2009.

Saints working on Ascension Island and the Falklands have been as anxious to learn about their future travel arrangements as much as anyone. The St Helena Air Service Tender submissions have been asked to consider:

The minimum service required between Ascension Island and St Helena to replace the passenger elements of the existing RMS service is a base frequency of a monthly flight (12 per annum).

Passenger expectations from Wideawake Airfield on Ascension (which would include those linking to/from the Falklands) is: 600 round trip passengers per year, with no growth factor to be applied.

Those numbers break down to just 50 round trip passengers per month.

Other details about Ascension Island given in the Request For Proposals include:

Military requirements will always take priority over civil aircraft movements.

In terms of scheduled services to Ascension Island, the MOD South Atlantic Airbridge currently provides two return flights per week between the UK and the Falkland Islands via Ascension. Currently a standard allocation of 15 seats, increased to 25 seats for a RMS connecting flight, are reserved for passengers travelling to/from Ascension on the UK/Ascension and Ascension/UK legs of each Airbridge flight. Passengers connecting to St Helena make use of these allocations. Discussions are underway with the UK Ministry of Defence to explore the option of increasing seat availability on the Airbridge.

5 – St Helena Air Service Tender – Length of Contract

Flights to St Helena Airport on a regular, commercial basis, are expected to begin in 2017 after a government tender for the provision of air services closed on Monday 6 February. The successful tender will be announced before the end of May 2017. Details of service should be announced at the same time.

Flights to St Helena Airport on a regular, commercial basis, are expected to begin in 2017 after a government tender for the provision of air services closed on Monday 6 February. The successful tender will be chosen before end of April and contract signed before the end of May 2017.

SHG is seeking through this procurement process to award an air service contract with a suitably capable organisation to provide air services for a period to be agreed, but with the expectation of a minimum contract duration of three years.

This three year expectation from bidders is also interesting, especially considering Comair have said the, “original contract remains in place.”

In response to WTSDN enquiries, last week a spokesperson from SHG gave this statement:

“The agreement with Comair for the provision of a scheduled air service to St Helena is on hold following the identification of wind shear during an implementation flight in April 2016. SHG remain in touch with Comair on air service provision issues; no fees are being paid to Comair.”

WTSDN asked Comair about their current relationship with SHG. Mr Cochrane said in an email, “we continue committed to continued engagement with SHG and will play whatever role we can in finding a more permanent, reliable air-service solution for the island.”

Personally I’m not quite sure what to make of all this. Could two contracts be in play together? What happens if six months into the new contract, Comair acquires a suitable aircraft for wind shear and say they are ready to restart that original contract? Let’s hope those making the decisions have all these bases covered.

6 – Atlantic Star Airlines

St Helena Air Service Tender. The Atlantic Star/Tronos, Avro RJ100 arriving at St Helena Airport in October, 2016.

The Atlantic Star/Tronos, Avro RJ100 arriving at St Helena Airport in October, 2016. St Helena Air Service Tender

As far as I’m concerned, the turning point in the quest for a solution to St Helena Airport’s wind shear problem was Atlantic Star’s Avro flight in October, 2016. Until then, there was very little to suggest that a viable fix was coming anytime soon.

The Avro RJ100 landings from both ends of the runway demonstrated for the first time that there were real options, and Atlantic Star’s willingness to engage and share information was refreshing.

The Atlantic Star proposal for an air service involves an Avro RJ100 permanently based on St Helena, flying twice weekly shuttles to Ascension to connect with the existing Air Bridge mentioned earlier. If demand is sufficient then onward flights to Accra, Ghana are a possibility.

The company have announced Cello Aviation as their operations partner as part of their bid. Cello Aviation are based in Birmingham, UK and currently operate two luxury Avro jets configured for the VIP and executive travel market.

The Avro that Atlantic Star would use if successful with their bid, however, would still come from Tronos, the company who operated the aircraft for October’s flight.

Considering that the tender states, “SHG is seeking to award a contract or contracts to a suitably qualified organisation or organisations to provide regular air services to the Island…” this sets up the possibility that one operator flies a ‘St Helena – South Africa’ link while a second company manages a ‘St Helena – Ascension’ link. The more I think about this the more exciting the possibilities that spring to mind for both St Helena and Ascension Island.

Atlantic Star has said if selected they “are in a position to get ticketing and flight operations underway very quickly.”

7 – SA Airlink

The Embraer E190 at St Helena Airport in November 2016. St Helena Air Service Tender

The Embraer E190 at St Helena Airport in November 2016. St Helena Air Service Tender

What we know about SA Airlink already is also very exciting.

Last month Southern Africa’s largest independent regional airline announced they are acquiring five Embraer E-Jets – three E170s and two E190s, to add to the Embraer fleet they already operate as part of ongoing growth and modernisation.

In November/December 2016 when the Brazilian, Embraer E190 carried out those successful test flights here at St Helena Airport there were also SA Airlink pilots on board. The Airlink pilots took turns at the controls to fly training circuits under the watchful eye of the Brazilian company’s test pilot. Clearly a smart move ahead of the tender process.

According to SA Airlink’s website they connect 36 destinations in 9 African countries, carrying more than 1.4m passengers on 44,800 flights annually. Airlink’s main hub is Johannesburg. There is plenty more information, just follow the link to view their website.

A contact in the aviation industry has told us:

“Embraer lists the range of the 190AR at 2,450nm.

“The Johannesburg-St Helena sector is just under 2,000nm and Cape Town-St Helena is almost 1,700nm.

“St Helena is also 700nm from the possible diversion alternate airfield at Ascension Island, located to the north-west.”

8 – Keep The Bids Small

While large jets have been unable to land, small business jets such as the Bombardier Challenger 300 are able to land on runway 02, with a tail wind.

While large jets have been unable to land, small business jets such as the Bombardier Challenger 300 are able to land on runway 02, with a tail wind.

Those are some of key points of the St Helena Air Service Tender process. Most of this we’ve pulled together from SHG’s ‘Request for Proposal’ document and our own previous blog posts about Atlantic Star and the Embraer flight trials.

After the bid deadline passed, SHG have said they are “encouraged by the response” which is a good sign.

The only other stipulation on the ‘Request for Proposal’ that caught my eye was how the tenders were to be submitted to SHG.

All tenders should be submitted electronically by one or more emails of no more than 5 MB each.

Yikes! Our own Breeze e-magazine is 12MB.

On a serious note though, let’s hope the St Helena Air Service Tender process and 2017 turns up a great air service for St Helena. That airport is pretty cool and deserves to be put to good use.

St Helena Airport passenger terminal was all set set for passengers since May 2016, but so far only a trickle of air travel visitors have passed through its doors.

St Helena Airport passenger terminal was all set set for passengers since May 2016, but so far only a trickle of air travel visitors have passed through its doors.

COMMENTS

  • April 18, 2017

    An E-jet will be a great aircraft for the route but its clear that old agreements with Comair need to be sorted out first, but Saint Helena airport is an open skies airport and licensed, so any airline can “choose” to fly there if they so wish right now today as long as the performance and type / div is all ok … Its only when you want financial support that things get sticky and legally quite difficult, especially if you have already agreed something with someone else!

    I’m still unsure how the full logistics support that RMS offered with break bulk freight and supplies are going to be replicated by a 100 seat airliner either a 738 / RJ100 or E-jet

    This is going to be frustrating times for the next few months especially with a snap election called in UK which would likely delay things further I might think.

    The alternate of Ascension is clearly many months off of being resolved as well if there is pot holes in the runway although sounds like a perfect opportunity for the RLC / REME to go and do some real life runway repairs.

    Thinking out of the box might be a good thing to do right now. There is no apparent quick immediate solution that seems sensible for all parties, it is just a huge shame the Saints and the worlds visitors are hamstrung by decisions out of their control!

    • April 21, 2017

      Hey Blighty, thanks for the comment. The bulk freight is sorted, a dedicated freight ship, the MV Helena will fill that role. In fact she has been brought into service early with the RMS having problems. It’s just passengers really where there’s a big problem for now. Cheers.

  • Courtney Baird

    April 17, 2017

    What about fuel requirements for the planes as I noted that they are on the “small planes”. Will the vessel RMS Helena still continue?

    • April 21, 2017

      A new fuel depot is virtually complete in Ruperts Valley. Tankers (ships) top up the stocks every few months, all seems to work fine. The RMS will be decomissioned once the airport is up and running properly. That’s the plan 🙂 Thanks for the comment Courtney.

  • Neil

    April 16, 2017

    I would have thought that as the tax payer has paid for the airport further we have a right to know how the SHG is spending TP money like any normal Government tender.
    If the contract with Comair is still in place and they have not been officially “notified” of thier position in the bidding process then expect a large bill if the contract is awarded to another vendor … Taxpayer will pick up the tab.

    • April 21, 2017

      Thanks for the comment Neil. Yes, it feels like a bit of a tangled web being weaved with two different contracts potentially in play. Hope someone in there has it all under control 🙂

  • susan Homolka

    February 28, 2017

    Thanks for providing some much needed information. Those of us who would like to return one day are on anxious to hear ANYTHING. It would be really nice to have an idea when the weekly flights might start, or did I miss that?

    • February 28, 2017

      It’s all best guess at the moment Susan, depending on who is awarded the contract and how quickly they can get up and running. In theory anytime from June onwards. Hopefully we might have a better idea once the preferred bidder is known at the end of April 2017. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Martin Brandt

    February 15, 2017

    Comair in a media statement on 15 February (see https://www.moneyweb.co.za/news/companies-and-deals/comair-share-price-up-on-improved-results/ ) said: “Comair was still prepared to proceed with the scheduled weekly service to St Helena Island, if the country’s government could obtain permission from the British Aviation Authority for it to make use of the unused part at the end of the runways on the newly built St Helena Airport.” Comair further stated that: “At this stage no claims have been submitted with regard to the cost incurred, and Comair “will address it when the need arises” “. One indeed has to hope that, as stated in your very informative and professional blog, that “What happens if six months into the new contract, Comair acquires a suitable aircraft for wind shear and say they are ready to restart that original contract? Let’s hope those making the decisions have all these bases covered.”

    • February 15, 2017

      Thanks Martin for sharing this link. First I’ve heard of this request to use the end (can only be the south end) of the runway. As optimistic as we are for air travel this year there’re still plenty of reasons for concern, especially with everything shrouded in so much secrecy. The “cost incurred” statement indicates there is probably a lot more turbulence to come for poor old St Helena. I’ve shared the link on our FB page. Thanks again for the comment 🙂

  • Alan

    February 8, 2017

    A well written article. As usual, your take of the important issues are very succinct and blended with real life experiences from your Island you bring an element of reality to what would otherwise be a small byline in international news.

    In my opinion SHG has taken the correct action in keeping the tender process away from the public gaze. The UK media are all too happy to pounce on any negative story and embellish it. With the correct aircraft and pilot training the airport will be a success.

    • February 15, 2017

      Yes, correct aircraft and pilot training is clearly very important for operating from Prosperous Bay Plain. The Avro and Embraer pilots demonstrated how important this is. Before that most of us didn’t even realise what a difference the type of aircraft could make. Thanks for the comment Alan 🙂

  • Paul Alexander

    February 8, 2017

    Hope it’s SA Airlink who are really good and already have Embraers, and that they choose the Cape Town – St Helena route. Johannesburg is further, and lacks the cultural and economic ties to St Helena to make this viable, and there are plenty direct CT-London flights.

    • February 8, 2017

      A lot of Saints would agree with you on the Cape Town route, Paul. Can’t wait for when the tender details are made public. Thanks for the comment.

  • Roger LEE

    February 8, 2017

    I think two Bidders should be selected and two types of aircraft , this will avoid too much reliance on one type or Organisation . The Avro RJ with extra wing tanks should be based on St.Helena for the Ascension Route and Emergency Flights and the Embraer 190 to do the Capetown Route . They could cover for each other in the event of weather or technical difficulties .
    After a successful start to Flights and when everything is `bedded down` a test flight with a long range 757 should be arranged from the UK with a stop at the Cape Verde`s .Quite a few flights go from the UK to of the Islands there . Keep the interesting News coming please , lots of Aviation Enthusiasts from around the World must look forward to your blogs on the Airport .
    Regards ,
    Roger Lee

    • February 8, 2017

      The two operator option would be good for St Helena if it can be made viable. I like the ‘cover’ idea. Yes, the aviation forums are ‘our friend’ always sharing our stories. Look forward to the day we’re posting about the commercial flights up and running! Now that will be something 🙂 Thanks for the comment Roger, always good to hear from you. Cheers.

    • Colin

      February 22, 2017

      Roger, nice idea, but airlines need to make money. Having an aaircraft based at St Helena waiting for an emergency is financial suicie.

  • Rich

    February 8, 2017

    Great article.
    Looking forward to seeing you soon….
    Cheers
    Rich B

    • February 8, 2017

      Cheers Rich. Us too 🙂

  • Paul (married into StHelenian descendants

    February 8, 2017

    Can’t wait. The prospect of Sydney to St Helena with only one transit in Johburg is breathtaking. Never thought this would happen. Our whole family is so excited at this prospect. Secondary wish is Comair just to keep it in the QF and BA family.

    • February 8, 2017

      That’s your family excited – can you imagine how we feel being able to get anywhere in a matter of hours and not days is going to be so weirdly amazing! It’s going to be so much better now for families to make connections throughout the year too. Getting excited again! Thanks for the comment Paul 🙂

  • February 8, 2017

    Congratulations, Saints!
    Once again you have hit a (choose your favorite ball game analogy type score) home run, with your top notch journalistic analysis of the ongoing Saint Helena Airport saga, which we all pray will ultimately be resolved in the best interest of all. Keep up the great work guys and gals, and we definitely plan to make the trip when the flights start.
    Bill Fulgham, K5EYS, owner of WPBQ and KBRA Radio
    Jackson, Miss. US

    • February 8, 2017

      I’ll choose a Dele Alli last minute winner!! (Football [soccer]) 🙂 Thanks for the feedback Bill, it will be good to meet you when you make that trip. True words and totally agree, “resolved in the best interest of all.” Can’t wait.

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