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Embraer 190 Trial Flight Lands At St Helena Airport

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Hiking up Bencoolen with to find a good spot to photograph the Embraer's arrival.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Hiking up Bencoolen with to find a good spot to photograph the Embraer’s arrival.

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.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. My dad, Pat (the original mountain goat) joining us for the hike up Bencoolen. Pausing here, half way up, to plot the rest of the climb.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
My dad, Pat (the original mountain goat) joining us for the hike up Bencoolen. Pausing here, half way up, to plot the rest of the climb.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Not looking good one and half hours before the Embraer is due to arrive. Even in the gloom, this is a good view of the amazing fill job done in Dry Gut to create a foundation for the southern end of the runway.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Not looking good one and half hours before the Embraer is due to arrive. Even in the gloom, this is a good view of the amazing fill job done in Dry Gut to create a foundation for the southern end of the runway.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Selfie at the top and hoping the weather will clear before the plane arrives.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Selfie at the top and hoping the weather will clear before the plane arrives.

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?

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. First glimpse of the Embraer, approaching from the south.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
First glimpse of the Embraer, approaching from the south.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. What The Saints Did Next have a 'Nikon man' in the team today.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
What The Saints Did Next have a ‘Nikon man’ in the team today.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. The Embraer ERJ-190-100 on final approach to St Helena Airport, runway 02, southern end, with George Island visible below.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
The Embraer ERJ-190-100 on final approach to St Helena Airport, runway 02, southern end, with George Island visible below.

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

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Side on, the Embraer ERJ-190-100 with the 'Empress of London City' logo and Union Jack livery. A little research reveals these aircraft currently operate out of London City Airport and were introduced around 2009/10 to replace the AVRO series aircraft. Once again it seems to be following the AVRO, this time into St Helena.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Side on, the Embraer ERJ-190-100 with the ‘Empress of London City’ logo and Union Jack livery. A little research reveals these aircraft currently operate out of London City Airport and were introduced around 2009/10 to replace the AVRO series aircraft. Once again it seems to be following the AVRO, this time into St Helena.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Tail wind approach for the Embraer ERJ-190-100, the 'Empress of London City' at St Helena Airport, runway 02.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Tail wind approach for the Embraer ERJ-190-100, the ‘Empress of London City’ at St Helena Airport, runway 02.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Embraer ERJ-190-100, over the Dry Gut fill at St Helena Airport, gliding smoothly to runway 02.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Embraer ERJ-190-100, over the Dry Gut fill at St Helena Airport, gliding smoothly to runway 02.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. On the ground at 15:36, Wednesday 30 November 2016 - the Embraer ERJ-190-100, makes a smooth landing at St Helena Airport.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
On the ground at 15:36, Wednesday 30 November 2016 – the Embraer ERJ-190-100, makes a smooth landing at St Helena Airport.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Shooting another key moment in St Helena's airport history.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Shooting another key moment in St Helena’s airport history.

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)

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Sharon shooting the video - make sure check it out.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Sharon shooting the video – make sure check it out.

Dear Santa…

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.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena. Parking at St Helena Airport after a successful flight from Recife, Brazil.

Embraer Trial Flight to St Helena.
Parking at St Helena Airport after a successful flight from Recife, Brazil.

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