In April we wrote about the small island’s new airport. At the time, South Africa’s Comair used one its new 737-800s to do a test flight from Johannesburg. The landing at the island proven challenging because of severe wind shear. To get an idea of how tough this airport be to work with, take a look at the image.
Since the island is losing its supply ship, there really is no option than to find a way to make this airport work. Turns out there are more tests underway. As part of ongoing research into the wind shear at St Helena (IATA: HLE) an Embraer E-190 visited the airport.
The aircraft, operated by Embraer Commercial Aviation as a demonstration flight, visited St. Helena Airport from November 30 and December 2. The airport reported the flight, carrying 11 crew, including two SA Airlink pilots, arrived from Recife, Brazil, and made a smooth landing on Runway 02 (from the south). Airport management believes the E-190 is one of a number of potential solutions to operating regular flights to St. Helena.
An airport statement said: “As planned, the Embraer aircraft completed a variety of landings, take-offs and circuits at St. Helena Airport. These flights generated considerable real time data which, together with a pilot’s report, will help St. Helena Airport build a more comprehensive picture of the conditions under which we will be asking a scheduled air service to operate. Embraer will be submitting a full report shortly.
The Embraer aircraft completed a number of successful landings and take-offs from the north (Runway 20) – together with a number of planned ‘touch and goes’ – where the aircraft briefly touches down before powering up for take-off. The touch and go manoeuvre allows the pilot to assess a landing without the time taken for a conventional landing.
Fly-bys and approaches at different angles were carried out to check the wind conditions and approach paths. The aircraft also conducted climbs from the airport at various angles. Air Traffic Control actively assisted these trials by giving the necessary weather data and other information to the aircraft.
Over the two days at the Airport, the Embraer team experienced a variety of wind conditions, including turbulence on Runway 20. Work is continuing to understand and mitigate the turbulence and wind shear experienced on Runway 20.”
There are some important factors that come out of these tests.
- It appears the runway is workable.
- It may be that lighter aircraft are better suited for St. Helena service.
- Let’s consider various ranges serving the airport. This is what potential service areas look like. Looking at a map with the ranges for the E-190 (2,000NM), E190-E2 (2,800NM) and CS100 (3,100NM).
- The inclusion of a crew from SA Airlink underscores ongoing interest in service from South Africa.
- It was very smart of Embraer to do the test, as this opens up the St. Helena market to a new range of possibilities.
- If Comair cannot or will not serve St. Helena with its 737s, then SA Airlink could do so with aircraft it would need to secure from Embraer. Comair was announced as the carrier with the deal to serve the island.
- SA Airlink could start a bidding war between Bombardier and Embraer. Currently SA Airlink has ERJ145s. But it also has a dozen aging BAe 146s. We’d guess Embraer has a leg up here.
- Finally, if SA Airlink were to somehow wrest the air service preference from Comair, St.Helena residents would prefer service from Cape Town rather than Johannesburg because of deeper ties between these two places. The island’s mail-ship sailed from Cape Town.