Changing Times: St Helena's airport welcomes first commercial flight
Dubbed by British media as the world's most useless airport, St. Helena's airport has now opened, welcoming its first inaugural flight from Johannesburg operated by the South African, SA Airlink.
Located in the middle of the Southern Atlantic Ocean, St. Helena is a volcanic tropical island part of the British territory with a population of just 4,255 inhabitants. The airport was built using $380 million in funding from the UK Department for International Development. It previously took 6 days to reach the island from South Africa, which was the only available route.
"This is an important moment in St Helena's route to self-sufficiency" a spokesman for the UK Government said. "It will boost its tourism industry creating the opportunity to increase its revenues."
Executed by an Embraer 190 jet, this will now become a weekly link between Johannesburg and the island of St. Helena shortening the travel time to just 6h 30 minutes. As part of this air link, the plane will stop midway in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia on each crossing. Return tickets are scheduled to cost $1,350.
Lying 1,930 kilometers away from Angola and Namibia, the nearest mainland, St Helena once relied on a small industry backbone but now requires $52 million in government aid every year from the British government. With this investment, the UK hopes to boost the local economy with tourism.
Most well known for the fact that Napoleon was exiled to St Helena and spent the remainder of his days there following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, traveling to the island for any regular tourist was previously impossible due to its location.
Although TripAdvisor shows just 3 hotels on St. Helena at the moment, officials hope that now that the island is open to the world, tourists will come.
"I've seen the headlines about the world's most useless airport, but for St. Helenans this has already been the most useful airport. It's priceless." explained Governor Lisa Phillips.
Indeed, between May 2016 and May 2017, St. Helena registered just 3,795 visitors according to the Guardian, whereas the UK government believes the airport will allow to bring this number up to 30,000 per year. A potentially enormous gain for an island that only got mobile phone coverage two years ago.
Despite being extremely remote, St. Helena has already started adapting to this new economic prospect with the opening of the Mantis, the first luxury hotel on the island. Looking to capitalize on this, UK tour operators have already started selling 7-day trips to the island from £2,450 per person.
Photo by Wikipedia Commons / NASA