Before leaving for a meeting of the Friends of St Helena in London yesterday, about which perhaps more some other time, I read the above article by Vince Thompson in the St Helena Independent.
Apparently Captain Andy Radford of Atlantic Star Airline is hopeful, confident even, that his compasny will be the preferred supplier of air services to St Helena. At the moment Atlantic Star has no planes, but plans to lease a single Boeing 757.
The proposed initial route is Gatwick or Stansted - Madrid - St Helena - Cape Town, and then back again, once a week, with monthly flights to Ascension.
Atlantic Star thinks that a Boeing 757 is the right choice for St Helena's short runway, and it would propose to adapt its plane to allow it to carry more fuel, necessary given the distance of backup airports from St Helena.
The plane would then have a reduced capacity of 120 passengers. Although the 757 is no longer in production, Atlantic Star is confident it can find one to lease. In the unlikely event that the 757 ever breaks down then no worries, Atlantic Star will sign a contract with a company that specialises in providing backup in cases of technical difficulties!
Atlantic Star hopes by the end of 2017 to be able to run two flights a week. So, best case scenario, that would make 240 passengers from Europe per week, and 240 from South Africa, making an annual total of almost 25,000 tourists if all the planes were full, and none of the passengers were Saints or expatriates returning to live or work on St Helena. Those are rather fanciful assumptions, which illustrates just how big a task it will be to get the 50,000 tourists a year that Government plans anticipate. Crucial of course will be the cost of flights, and Atlantic Star anticipates that it will be no more and hopefully less than a current Fly/Sail package between the UK and St Helena, which for the very cheapes berths on the RMS St Helena would I think currently be around £1600 via Ascencion Island.
Atlantic Star's plans require a Government subsidy for the first five years or so. No indication is given of how big this would be, and I am unclear whether such a subsidy is included within the £250 million the British Government has allocated to build and run the airport for 10 years.
Frankly I am a little underwhelmed by this. It is beginning to look to me as if the new airport will have plenty of spare capacity for the private jets and military aircraft that a number of sceptics have predicted. A respected member of the Friends of St Helena told me yesterday that he expects the RMS St Helena to be with us for rather longer than the Government is currently admitting.
I hope this pessimism is without foundation, but anyway we should get a clearer idea of the St Helena Government's plans by the middle of 2014.