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The Islander Newspaper Ascension Island
  Issue No. 2234 Online Edition Monday 20 October 2014 
Home | July 2014 Please tell us what you think of this article. Tell a friend Print Friendly

Ascension : Notice to the public: Post 2016 Access
Submitted by The Islander (Ascension Island Government) 17.07.2014 (Article Archived on 31.07.2014)

As many of you will know the airport on St Helena is expected to be fully operational in early 2016.

Notice to the public:

 

An Introduction:

As many of you will know the airport on St Helena is expected to be fully operational in early 2016.  This is an incredibly exciting development and will result in a number of changes for both St Helena and Ascension.  Sadly one of these changes will be the decommissioning of the RMS ‘St Helena’ with her final voyage expected to occur in June/July 2016.  For decades the RMS and her predecessor have provided a vital transport link to St Helena.  For those of us working on Ascension and in the Falklands the vessel has provided the means to travel home for holidays and at the end of our contracts.  Obviously an inter-island link must be maintained and it is Ascension Island Government’s commitment to this that has led to the establishment of the Post 2016 Access unit.

What about St Helena’s air service?

St Helena Government, with the support of the Department for International Development, is in the process of identifying and procuring an air link to connect the island to a suitable mainland hub.  Ideally this air service will also provide a means of transport between St Helena and Ascension.  Unfortunately the realities of achieving this extra ‘leg’ are extremely challenging and potentially expensive.  Consequently it has been decided that Ascension Island shouldcontinue to explore potential alternatives so as to ensure a continuation of the inter-island link in the event that the extension is not possible or affordable.

So what do we do from here?

The first challenge is to establish exactly what kind of link will provide the best quality of service.  Whilst an air link might reduce the journey time it will also reduce the quantity of cargo that can be transported between the islands.  A sea link could allow us to continue to move freight between the islands much as we do now but will need to be both affordable and frequent (visiting at least as often as the RMS does).  Within these two basic options there are also other factors to consider, for example the potential to use the aircraft/vessel for other functions so as to increase the viability of the service.  Should AIG consider purchasing an aircraft or vessel? What types of aircraft/vessel would be suitable?  And perhaps the most important question – how much will each of these options cost?  Affordability is key.  The RMS ‘St Helena’ is heavily subsidised by the UK Government (millions of pounds of support!) however once St Helena’s airport is fully operational this subsidy will cease – the new service will need to be completely commercially viable and self-supporting - in other words the cost of providing the service will need to be recovered through ticket sales and freight charges.

So the first task is to calculate the cost of each option in as much detail as is possible at this stage.  Once this has been done the options will be reviewed against a number of criteria.  The most suitable option will then be pursued (identifying and procuring a service provider or purchase).  Whilst all of this is happening we will also need to ensure that the associated services are in place, these include: ticket sales, passenger and baggage handling, support services for the aircraft/vessel (eg refuelling), and health and safety measures.

What is the time frame?

St Helena Airport is expected to officially open in February 2016.  An inter-island service will need to be in place and operational shortly after this date so as to be fully established well before the last voyage of the RMS in June/July of that year.  That gives us approximately 21 months.

What will this mean for the residents of Ascension?

At this stage it is difficult to accurately describe the impact of these changes without knowing exactly what form of transport will be available.  However there WILL be a transport link of some kind.  It may be that the amount of baggage you can take to St Helena will be less – this would be unfortunate but realistic.  When travelling to the UK on holiday we are restricted to 54kgs (or less!) with freight at present being transported far less frequently via the MOD.  It is possible that there will be a similar situation with regard to travel to St Helena.  Sadly this is something we are all going to have to learn to live with. 

 

It is important to remember that this is simply a matter of being PREPARED.  We want to have a plan in place IF for any reason St Helena’s air service provider is unable to extend the schedule to include Ascension. 

 

I have a question/idea/suggestion, who do I contact?

Please feel free to contact me, Toni Bendall, on:

Email: toni.bendall@ascension.gov.ac                    Tel: 00247 6359

 

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