The number of seats made available for sale to the public on flights between Ascension Island and Brize Norton, UK has been increased. From 1st January 2013 the Ministry of Defence will double the allocation of seats from 10 to 20. This development follows discussions between St Helena and Ascension Governments, the MOD and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The 20 seat allocation applies to passengers from St Helena and Ascension. The cost of flights remains unchanged which is £524 one way and £1005 return.
Julian Morris, Director of Enterprise St Helena spoke to the Sentinel about the airbridge. “When the number of seats on the airbridge was reduced we, that’s the Government of St Helena and the Foreign Office, have been pushing very hard to get the number back up so we’ve been working on this for some months and its great to see that it’s borne fruit.”
Does this increase satisfy demand? “It does satisfy demand,” he replied. “The average number of seats taken up on the airbridge has been 10. But of course on those flights that meet the RMS on Ascension, the demand has been much higher. So it should be sufficient but if we can grow traffic then obviously hopefully we would want to revisit this. The original allocation was 26 seats per flight and on average we only used ten of those seats. So you can see that we were on average using less than half of that allocation.”
The SHG press release mentions the airbridge capacity could be increased to help with the higher demand for Christmas 2012, do you know what it could be increased to? “I’ve seen some of the booking data and on some of those flights we are looking at about 35 seats being required on those flights so getting commitment for those extra seats on the flights is fantastic news because the people who are travelling at that time are Saints not tourists.”
There are two flights per week calling to Ascension Island that are operated by the Royal Air Force, the service is contracted to private companies. High Fly (formerly AirLuxor) will be the new operators from 1st October.
“When the number of seats on the airbridge were cut back that had quite a marked effect in terms of reducing access from Ascension,” said Morris. “So getting the numbers back up we can now go back to our tourism partners to increase traffic. Both from people who want to travel backwards and forwards via Ascension but also those people who want to do what we call a one-way route so will fly to Ascension and then get off the ship in Cape Town or vice versa and we’ve lost that traffic. Those numbers will come back so it will have an impact. We now need to get working on telling our partners that there is more capacity back on this.”
We asked Morris the connection his role had with shipping and airbridge matters. “I’m the Chief Executive for Economic Development, so under that role I am responsible for a number of very different functions. I’m the chair of Enterprise St Helena, I’m also in terms of my SHG responsibility, responsible for the RMS and in terms of the airbridge I’ve just been involved in working on it.”