16 OCTOBER 2017

The Business Travel News
Published every Monday
PO Box 758
Edgware HA8 4QF
United Kingdom
+44 (0)20 8952 8383
© 2016 Business Travel News Ltd

COMMENT: The people's airport

Somebody, referring to the august profession in which BTN dabbles, once said “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. It’s usually attributed to Mark Twain, but in the way of these things there is some discussion about that. No matter; it’s the thought that counts and it is a thought called to mind of coverage for the arrival of the first commercial airline flight to deliver passengers at the new airport on the remote island of St Helena.

This is the complex which another member of our fraternity dubbed “the most useless airport in the world”, one of those cheap throwaway lines that sounds good at the time until you find you can’t get rid of it. True to form, it was trotted out endlessly in reports in the UK media of the arrival of Saturday’s Airlink flight from Johannesburg. Second-hand and second-rate journalism.

The real prize however went to the increasingly-hysterical London Evening Standard, now under the stewardship of former chancellor and rabid anti-Brexiteer George Osborne. One of the reporters on the inaugural mentioned in passing the aircraft arrived 45min late – this for a 1,200mi journey scheduled at 6hr 15min, including a tech stop in Windhoek, Namibia. The Standard put this newsworthy "fact" in its big black headline: “St Helena airport welcomes first commercial flight – but it lands 45 minutes late.” One wonders exactly how often the writer concerned actually gets on an aircraft these days.

Yes the flight was delayed, but since the people of St Helena have been waiting for someone to end their isolation since 1909, when Louis Blériot flew the Channel and ended the myth that islands could never be reached without great hardship, did another 45min really matter? The way this weekend’s story was written up was just headline-grabbing. 

Yes, the new St Helena Airport cost £285m of UK taxpayers’ money, as we have been constantly reminded, but far from being useless it is probably the world's finest people’s airport, built for compelling social reasons and bringing a whole community into the 21st century. The alternative for anyone wishing to land there was a five-day rough sea crossing every few weeks.

It overcame daunting obstacles, not least the fact that the best site, one of the few flat spaces on the notoriously craggy island, was ruled out because of a nearby breeding ground for the wirebird, an endangered species of plover. To utilise the new location, a valley had to be filled in with 8m cubic metres of rock, among other challenges, hence the cost. Weather problems had to be assessed and overcome. And after all that, on Saturday an aircraft finally brought one of the world’s most remote outposts within reach of the rest of all of us. 

Blériot and all the other pioneers would have been proud.

(See also  ON TOUR  and the  AND FINALLY   in this issue).

Air Canada to London City Airport?

Speaking at a reception to launch his new book London City Airport – 30 Years Serving the CapitalBusiness Travel News editor-in-chief Malcolm Ginsberg speculated that Air Canada could fly into LCY with the controversial Bombardier C Series, and Delta Air Lines too. Both have the plane on order.

“We’ve focused on airlines such as BA and SWISS operating out of LCY with this wonderful new aircraft”, he said, “but why not carriers based in Toronto and New York coming in from North America? It would be a real boost for Canary Wharf and the Royal Docks area.”  

Ginsberg went on to complain that there was no Elizabeth Line station serving London City and Silvertown, which the new railway passes by.  “The previous mayor, Boris Johnson, seems to have vetoed it," he said. 

"He tried to stop the terminal extension too, which (current London mayor) Sadiq Khan overruled. There is no station between ExCeL and Woolwich. Terminate the railway at Canary Wharf when it opens in December 2018, and turn the trains around," Ginsberg said. 

"Build a station in Silvertown and launch the extension six months later. That is what happened with the DLR, the London City section constructed after the line was finished to Canning Town. The then mayor, Ken Livingstone, not a supporter of the airport, had to admit it made sense.”

LONDON CITY AIRPORT – 30 Years Serving the Capital  ISBN  978-1-900438-07-0


Confusion and uncertainty over the Monarch Airlines collapse needs to be addressed urgently, ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer told delegates at the association’s annual convention.

The Monarch failure showed the system of customer protection had a gaping hole and people’s understanding of the ATOL scheme had been “blurred” by the myriad ways in which travel arrangements were now assembled.

The new Package Travel Directive due to be introduced next July, contained elements that no-one yet fully understood, Tanzer went on, adding to the “complicated picture”.

He said the CAA needed to be more transparent in its communications to ease confusion about the meaning of “ATOL protection”, which did not apply to a company but to a particular set of holiday arrangements.

A second point to be addressed was the situation regarding passengers who simply purchased a flight as a scheduled airline ticket, for whom there was no repatriation scheme.  

The government nevertheless decided it would repatriate everyone free and try to recoup what it could from ATOL holders and credit card companies, who were not consulted and had no say in the cost incurred.

“This is completely unsatisfactory,” Tanzer said. “The taxpayer will end up picking up a large bill, whatever happens, and the industry is left wondering what is the point of ATOL protection if everyone gets brought home anyway?

Accor moves on Australia

Australia is set for a new look to its hospitality sector with the takeover by the French multinational chain AccorHotels of one of the country’s largest hotel and resort operators, Mantra Group.

Accor chairman and CEO Sébastien Bazin said: “This operation underpins our long-term growth in Asia Pacific, offering additional accommodation formats and a strong customer base to complement our portfolio.”

Mantra chairman Peter Bush added: “AccorHotels is one of the world’s leading hotel operators while Mantra’s expertise in apartments and resorts is complementary to Accor operations in Australia and New Zealand.  

“The combined business will be an important part of Australia’s strong and growing travel market and its customers will benefit from the market leading expertise of both groups”.

The Mantra portfolio has 127 properties and more than 20,000 rooms in hotels, resorts and serviced apartments across Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Hawaii.

The group operates three key brands: Peppers, with 28 properties, Mantra (75) and BreakFree (24). Mantra also manages core accommodation services including guest relations and reception areas.

Other interests for the group, which has more than 5,500 staff, include restaurants and bars, conference and function centres, pool and entertainment facilities, and offices.

AirportR, Stobart link-up

Fast-expanding travel technology specialist AirPortr has secured a £2m investment from the Stobart Group to expand urban luggage check-in and delivery services over next three years.

The partnership reflects the government’s aim to put passengers at the heart of a new aviation strategy with elements including city check-ins for luggage to improve accessibility, customer experience and security.

AirPortr and Stobart Aviation say they will work together using Stobart’s ownership of the supply chain including logistics, aviation services and infrastructure to expand luggage check-in and delivery services to more airlines and cities while improving airport efficiency.

AirPortr’s mobile luggage check-in and delivery service was successfully launched with British Airways in October 2016 and is the first in the world to be integrated into airline booking systems. 

The investment from Stobart, as part of a larger funding round, will support AirPortr’s plans to partner with more airlines, airports and destinations in the next three years. AirPortr vans will also be co-branded with the Stobart Aviation logo.

AirPortr is currently partnered with Gatwick and Heathrow airports in London and the service is offered to British Airways passengers via the airline’s online channels and mobile app.

Alitalia gears up for winter

New services to Delhi and Male, an extension of the Rome – Los Angeles flight and frequency increase on the Rome – São Paulo route for the winter season beginning 29 October are among future plans announced last week by Alitalia.

The developments follow long-haul services launched in the past two years to Seoul, Santiago de Chile, Mexico City, Beijing and Havana, which CCO Fabio Maria Lazzerini said showed the airline was committed to develop its intercontinental network. 

Noting that the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) had now restored Alitalia’s permanent air carrier operating licence, Lazzerini added: “Now we are ready to face the upcoming winter season with new routes, services and enhanced digitalisation. 

On long-haul, Lazzerini noted that the airline had recently reintroduced the Magnifica brand in Business Class featuring fully flat-bed seats, award-winning cuisine and access to Casa Alitalia lounges. 

Other priority services were also provided at airports, while wi-fi connection available on most of the long-haul fleet would now be offered free from 8 December to both Magnifica and Premium Economy passengers. 

Digital plans from the start of 2018 include a refreshed official website and the Alitalia app, which will include a comprehensive review of all web check-in functions and a new area to manage bookings, save boarding passes and customise travel preferences.

AOA pushes Brexit agenda

Remarks by Chancellor Philip Hammond on the need to ensure agreement is reached with the EU over post-Brexit air traffic services between the UK and Europe have been welcomed by the Airport Operators Association.

Giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee, Hammond said “it is theoretically conceivable that in a no-deal scenario there will be no air traffic moving between the UK and the European Union on 29 March 2019. But I don’t think anybody seriously believes that that is where we will get to.”

AOA chief executive Karen Dee said: “It is welcome to hear the chancellor recognise the importance of getting a deal with the EU. International aviation connectivity will be the foundation upon which a truly global Britain is built, enabling the UK’s trade in goods and services as well as supporting tourism.”

Dee said Hammond was right about the need for a new legal framework the day after Brexit to ensure continuity of air services: “It is vital a transition deal is agreed to give consumers and businesses the confidence future travel will be uninterrupted.”

Airports, she said, stood ready to facilitate future connectivity and looked forward to working with the parties involved to secure “a deal that works for everyone”.

Bombardier row escalates

The trade dispute between Boeing of the US and Bombardier of Canada escalated on Friday after Canada’s environment minister Catherine McKenna said US action in subjecting Bombardier to sanctions was "completely without merit" and "another example of protectionism".

US authorities imposed 300% tariffs on imports of Bombardier C-Series jets after complaints from Boeing that the C-Series aircraft, which have been ordered by Delta Air Lines, were being “dumped” at "absurdly low" prices.

McKenna said on Irish radio the allegations by Boeing "when they don't have a competitor plane" were very unhelpful. The row threatens more than 4,000 jobs at Bombardier's Belfast plant, which makes parts for the C-Series, including the wings.

Earlier, Delta Air Lines said it would not pay the US tariff. Chief executive Ed Bastian said: "We do not expect to pay the tariffs and we do expect to take the planes”, while cautioning there might be a delay in starting deliveries.

Boeing meanwhile last week launched an intensive multimedia campaign to raise “awareness and understanding” across Canada of the company’s “significant presence and annual impact on the economy”.

“Boeing contributes approximately 4bn Canadian dollars annually to Canada’s economic growth and development, which is nearly 14% of Canada’s entire aerospace economic impact,” the company said.

The campaign did not mention the Bombardier dispute.

Cathay's tours bonus

An “extended-stay programme” for visitors travelling on Cathay Pacific Airways to Hong Kong for three nights or more has been launched by the airline in collaboration with its local tourism partners. 

Passengers have a choice of free tours ranging from a day-long open-top bus ride to guided walks through the Old Town Central entertainment, culture and dining district or key landmarks like Victoria Peak, Stanley Market and Aberdeen Fishing Village.

Another option is the Kowloon Cultural and Life Tour featuring visits to the area’s diverse collection of landmarks and lively markets including Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery, the Yuen Po Bird Garden, and Nathan Road.

Visitors connecting through Hong Kong for between six and 24 hours on Cathay are offered a different set of experiences, including travel into the city and back with a free Airport Express pass or purchasing a choice of city packages at a special price.

These include a round-trip shuttle from the airport to Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel for a lunch or afternoon tea at Walt’s Café, or a return trip aboard the Ngong Ping cable car to Lantau Island for 360deg views of the Tian Tan Buddha and South China Sea.

Crisis for South African Airlines

Government-owned South African Airlines could be wound up or sold, according to Johannesburg’s  BusinessDay, the local and much respected equivalent of London’s  Financial Times.

Friday’s story was headlined “SAA left in limbo as Telkon (the nationalised local version of British Telecom) sale is canned”, saying South Africa’s government had needed money to bail out the airline and was thought to want to use the Telkon disposal for funding.

The previous day, respected columnist Bronwyn Nortje wrote a major feature “Why nosediving SAA no longer merits costly emergency landing”, pointing out the huge bailouts the airline has needed since 1999.

It said the airline did not know how to deal with the Gulf airlines which now bypass the traditional Africa hub, Johannesburg, with Emirates serving 25 African destinations with a very good product and Turkish Airlines serving 45.

Nortje noted SAA was advertising for a chief restructuring officer to turn the airline around.

“I don’t want to be a killjoy, but you don’t need a restructuring expert to know why SAA doesn’t make any money and is not likely to make any money,” she added. “The job should be to sell the assets, settle the debts and shut it down. We can do without SAA”.

Delta adds a sparkle

More competition on the inflight catering front emerged last week with Delta Air Lines claiming every flight could now be a special occasion after the airline introduced Italian sparkling wine in the main cabin in the shape of a glass of prosecco.

The carrier noted passengers had long had a choice of free beer, white and red wines and spirits, with the popular fizz, now available on all international flights, continuing Delta’s focus on providing a premium on-board food and drink offer.

Vice-president on-board services Lisa Bauer said: “Sparkling wine is often the first choice for a celebration and we know how special it is for people to jet off on a trip, so we wanted to bring the celebration to them.”

 “Offering free chef-curated food and drinks throughout the flight is one of the things that sets Delta apart and we’re upping the ante again with our mini bottles of prosecco.”

Passengers in the Delta One cabin meanwhile can now sample the flavours of autumn  through a new selection of wines curated by the airline’s master sommelier, Andrea Robinson, to create a seasonal list.

Heathrow woos Scotland

Companies across Scotland are marking their diaries for the country’s second Heathrow Business Summit, taking place on Wednesday (18 October) in Edinburgh as part of the airport’s pledge to create jobs in every corner of the UK.

Businesses that register for the event have the chance to meet face-to-face with Heathrow’s biggest suppliers and win contracts at one of the world’s largest airports as it prepares the groundwork for its multi-billion-pound expansion project.

Heathrow says communities and businesses across Scotland are forecast to gain up to £14.1bn and see up to 16,100 new jobs created from an expanded Heathrow, starting with planning for a new Supply Chain Hub north of the border.

This is where materials for Heathrow’s new runway will be pre-assembled and sent to the airport in consolidated loads – described by the airport’s expansion programme director Phil Wilbraham as another key commitment.

“We’ve seen many Scottish-based businesses deliver for the construction of Terminal 2 and we want even more of these businesses to work on our expansion plans,” he added. 

Scotland cabinet secretary Keith Brown said: “This summit will give Scottish businesses direct access to the airport’s biggest suppliers, with a view to them winning important contracts during this massive infrastructure project.”

Hilton chases Africa growth

A total of $50m has been committed by Hilton over the next five years towards an “Africa Growth Initiative” to support the continued expansion of the hotel group’s sub-Saharan portfolio on the continent. The group is also growing in China.

The Africa funds are for the conversion of around 100 hotels, 20,000 rooms, in multiple markets into Hilton branded properties including the flagship Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand, DoubleTree by Hilton and the recently-launched Curio Collection by Hilton.

Senior vice-president development, for Europe, Middle East and Africa Patrick Fitzgibbon said: "Hilton remains committed to growth in Africa having been present here for more than 50 years. 

"Converting existing hotels into Hilton-branded properties has proved successful elsewhere and we expect great opportunities through this initiative with huge potential in key cities and airports and the development of resorts and safari lodges."

Elsewhere, Hilton is also continuing its expansion in China with the opening of Garden Inn Shiyan, the first Hilton Garden Inn and second Hilton property in the city, with 152 guestrooms. 

Features include 210sq m of flexible meeting space and four meeting rooms, all designed to maximise natural light and outfitted with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and offering a variety of events packages.

Istanbul's high-tech newcomer

Already being hailed as the airport of the future, Istanbul’s new complex at Arnavutköy last week gave details of installations it claimed would make it one of the most technologically advanced too.

Istanbul New Airport (INA) is being built in four stages, with the first due to be completed by the end of 2018. This phase includes the world’s largest terminal under one roof, at nearly 11m sq ft and able to serve 90m passengers a year.

Officials said last week the goal of INA, which when finished will have six runways, would be to become a “smart airport”, making systems and processes “digitally aware, interconnected, infused with intelligence and simple to access by passengers”.

Ideas in the pipeline include an INA mobile app accessing latest information and with an integrated loyalty programme to be used for campaign management with retailers and food and beverage outlets.

Another key element will be using the internet to allow passengers to request and receive information relative to their location in the airport, with feedback in real-time. By knowing where a passenger is in the airport, staff can provide immediate help.

There will also be systems to manage passenger flow proactively with real-time information relayed through the app, and to manage planned high-tech bag drop desks.



McMillan quits AGS

Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports owner AGS is on the lookout for a new CEO after Amanda McMillan announced her departure following a family decision to relocate to Australia.

McMillan, who also has responsibility for Glasgow Airport, where she has been managing director for more than nine years, will continue in her role until early 2018.

AGS Airports chairman Sir Peter Mason said: “On behalf of the AGS Board, I would like to convey our sincere thanks to Amanda for the outstanding job she has done in establishing the AGS Airports Ltd group since its creation in 2014.

“Through her distinctive brand of leadership, AGS has become one of the UK’s leading airport groups. During this period, our airports in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton have benefited hugely from her drive and commitment to continually improve the customer experience for our growing number of passengers.”

McMillan said she had “thoroughly enjoyed” leading AGS and was leaving with mixed emotions “but this opportunity is one that comes at the right time for us as a family”.

She added: “I am immensely proud of the team at AGS, which has delivered significant passenger growth, secured new carriers, built enviable destination lists and completed a series of first-class modernisation projects.”

More growth for Hong Kong Airlines

A new non-stop service between Hong Kong and San Francisco is being launched by Hong Kong Airlines from 25 March next year, expanding the carrier’s presence in North America following openings to Vancouver and Los Angeles in 2017.

The San Francisco service will be operated by a new 334-seat Airbus A350 with 33 seats in Business Class, 108 in Economy Comfort and 193 in Economy and will be followed later in 2018 by service to New York.

Business Class seats have 23in width and can recline into a flatbed. The seats are also equipped with the latest high-definition TV screens, power outlets and USB ports, plus onboard wi-fi service is available to all passengers.

Chief commercial officer Li Dian Chun said: “Our transition from a regional airline to a global carrier continues to gain traction, as San Francisco becomes our third destination in North America.

“San Francisco International Airport served an all-time record 53.1m passengers last year, a 6.1% growth year on year, and as it is a popular destination for both business and leisure travellers, we anticipate even more growth in the future.”

New hotel for South Bank

London’s South Bank gains a new hotel next September with the arrival of the 161-room Bankside, close to the City and many of the capital’s best-known landmarks including Tate Modern, the National Theatre and Borough Market.

The property, which includes seven suites, will be in the six-storey glass tower which is a feature of the One Blackfriars development and offer of meeting and event spaces, co-working areas and a neighbourhood-style restaurant and bar with terrace.

Interiors are being produced by former filmset producer Dayna Lee of Powerstrip Studios and promise a mixture of bespoke furniture and art celebrating local craftmanship and heritage. 

“We wanted to create a genuine boutique hotel for the modern mindset, with calm rooms and creative public spaces that reflect the vibrant, history-steeped community of SE1,” Lee said.

“We’ve had fun celebrating the local artistic community, including post-kiln pottery drying racks for shelves, leather-covered furnishings conjuring an ‘art school’ experience and punctuating these with lots of luxurious, custom-made features.”

Sustainability is feature of Bankside, with initiatives including in-room power-saving elements, rooftop beehives, an aim of zero waste landfill, sustainably-sourced wood and the use of eco-friendly paints throughout.

Regional boost for easyJet

Expanded regional operations at Liverpool and Belfast have been announced by easyJet with the introduction of an Airbus A320 at each of the bases, in Liverpool’s case the eighth easyJet aircraft to be installed there.

Liverpool’s A320 is set to start operating from 27 July 2018, with the airline also upgrading two A319 aircraft to the A320 model, which it notes will significantly increase easyJet seat capacity at the airport.

More than 3,000 easyJet flights are set to take place to and from Liverpool between 25 June and 2 September next year, providing more than 1m seats for business and leisure passengers. 

For Belfast, the A320 will be the sixth easyJet aircraft for the Northern Ireland base. It is scheduled for delivery on 22 June 2018 and will remain based in Belfast throughout the year, joining two other A320s and three A319s.

EasyJet is Northern Ireland’s largest airline, operating more than 32 flights a day between Belfast and London. It has already added more than 6,000 seats to the route this winter and says it has “a long-term commitment to Northern Ireland”.

Southend seeks more space

Extensions to both ends of the terminal building at Southend Airport are being planned to offer improved facilities for passengers and allow the complex to meet new aviation regulations.

Officials have submitted an application to Rochford District Council for permission to carry out the multi-million pound project, which has two elements. The first is an extension to the southern end for new baggage sorting and screening systems.

The work is to enable new equipment to be installed, ensuring the airport can meet the forthcoming European Hold Baggage Security Screening Standard, which comes into force on 1 September next year.

The second part of the application is for an extension to the northern end of the terminal to improve baggage reclaim, with the existing arrivals baggage area replaced with a larger space to offer more flexible facilities.

Both extensions are single storey and the airport says have been sensitively designed in keeping with the existing terminal building. If approved, work should start in early 2018.

Glyn Jones, CEO of airport owner Stobart Aviation, said: “More and more people are realising London Southend offers them a better way to travel. This development is to ensure we maintain the highest levels of service and comply with new regulations.”

Storm over Air Berlin

Storm clouds were gathering at the weekend over an Air Berlin deal which saw Lufthansa reinforcing its position as Germany’s largest airline on Thursday by agreeing to buy large parts of the insolvent carrier for €210m (£187m, US$249m). 

First into the fray was Ryanair, which previously called talks between the two German airlines a “stitch-up” and said it would now be referring the matter to the EU competition authority.

Then on Friday Austria’s competition watchdog BWB called into question the part of the deal which handed Air Berlin’s Austrian leisure airline Niki to Lufthansa as part of the announced package.

BWB said it viewed the takeover as Lufthansa gaining anti-competitive dominance on many routes in Vienna. Lufthansa has said it plans to use Air Berlin aircraft to expand its Eurowings budget airline business.

Responding to Ryanair, Andreas Mundt, head of the German cartel office, said the European Commission would take a close look at the deal and that the German authorities would follow the process closely.

Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy in August after its main shareholder, Etihad, said it would not give further financial support. A notice on its website last week said it would stop flying by 28 October.

Vietjet joins forces with Qatar

The first phase of a two-part interline agreement between Vietjet and Qatar Airways has come into effect.

The deal enables Qatar passengers to travel to and from points in Vietnam and Taiwan served directly by its new partner. The next phase is due to be introduced shortly and will allow Vietjet passengers to fly to more than 150 points around the world served by Qatar Airways using a single reservation across both airlines’ networks. 

The Doha-based carrier’s group chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, said: “The new agreement with Vietjet will offer our passengers even more choices, providing them with an easy connection in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi before transferring to Qatar Airways flights.” 

Vietjet vice-president Nguyen Thi Thuy Binh added: “This partnership is a pillar of Vietjet’s strategy to diversify our services with an aim at offering our passengers greater travel opportunities and connections to various points in the world. 

“We will continue to partner with other airlines based on advanced technology platforms to better benefit our passengers."

The deal follows Qatar Airways’ announcement it is to launch two non-stop operations, a double-daily and 10 flights a week respectively, connecting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with Doha.

ON TOUR: St Helena

St Helena – Another scoop for BTN

BTN editor-in-chief Malcolm Ginsberg was on the inaugural scheduled flight into St Helena on Saturday (14 October) and will be reporting back on the island as a business and tourist destination. This ON TOUR is by way of an introduction. More will follow.

It is a speck in the South Atlantic, a volcanic island 10 miles wide and five miles deep 2,500mi east of Rio de Janeiro and 1,210mi west of the Cunene River, which marks the border between Namibia and Angola in southwestern Africa. It is a British Overseas Territory, one of the most remote islands in the world, and was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. 

Before the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, St Helena was an important stopover for ships sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa. Napoleon was exiled to the island after Waterloo in 1815, and from 1890, for seven years after the Boer War, Zulu King Dinuzulu ka Cetshwayo suffered the same fate. On the island is a memorial to 5,000 Boers taken prisoner during the conflict.

In 1657, Oliver Cromwell granted the English East India Company a charter to govern St Helena and the following year the company decided to fortify the island and colonise it with planters. The first governor, Captain John Dutton, arrived in 1659, making St Helena one of Britain's earliest outposts outside North America and the Caribbean. A fort and houses were built.

The island enjoyed a lengthy period of prosperity from about 1770. Captain James Cook visited in 1775. St James' Church was built in Jamestown, the miniature capital, in 1774, and Plantation House in 1791–1792; the latter since then has been the official residence of the governor. Although on the trade routes, St Helena was hardly self-sufficient, but could replenish ships with water and some provisions.

In 1815, the British government selected St Helena as the place to exile Napoleon Bonaparte. After the fiasco of the detention in Elba, it was clearly a better idea than sending him to the US where he might escape again. He died at Longwood House in 1821 and was returned to France in 1840.  His casket was transferred to Les Invalides in Paris in 1861. Longwood House is now a museum owned by the French government.

King George VI is the only reigning monarch to have visited the island. This was in 1947 when he, accompanied by Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, were travelling from South Africa in the battleship  HMS Vanguard  after a state visit. The Duke of Edinburgh came in 1957, Prince Andrew in 1984 and the Princess Royal in 2002.

The St Helena Constitution took effect in 1989 and provided that the island would be governed by a governor, commander-in-chief and an elected executive and legislative council. The British Overseas Territories Act 2002 granted full British citizenship to the islanders, who at the 2016 census totalled 4,534. 

In March 2005, the British government announced plans to construct an airport in St Helena and the three-letter code HLE was allocated. An airport was considered more cost effective than replacing the Royal Mail cargo/passenger ship. In July 2010, a deal was signed, with the South African civil engineering company Basil Read leading the construction.

For many years the Union Castle line called at St Helena on its service between the UK and South Africa but in 1977 this was replaced with infrequent visits by the Royal Mail Ship  RMS St Helena.  

In 1989, Prince Andrew launched the replacement  RMS St Helena to serve the island; the vessel was built specially for the Cardiff – Cape Town route and featured a full-service mixed cargo/passenger layout for around 150 clients. With the new flights,  RMS St Helena  will be withdrawn from service in 2018. She is unlikely to be scrapped, having been completed only in 1990. Refurbished and with her cargo capacity removed, she is likely to find employment as a specialist cruise ship.

The first aircraft, a South African Beechcraft King Air 200, landed at HLE on 15 September 2015 prior to conducting a series of flights to regulate the airport's radio navigation equipment. South African airline Airlink was selected as the carrier to link St Helena with continental Africa.

The airport's opening was due in May 2016, but it was announced in June of that year that it had been delayed due to concerns over high winds and windshear. Further calibration and research confirmed that the decision to make the runway 2,000m long, nearly twice that of London City Airport, was more than vindicated. Both airports are operational for the Embraer 190. 

HLE meets the standards set by the South African Civil Aviation Authority, which is the official monitor, with the infrastructure approved by Air Safety Support International (ASSI) a division of the UK’s CAA. Initially, Airlink is offering a weekly return flight every Saturday. 

The airport location means serious windshear makes it difficult to land from the north. It is perfectly safe from the other direction, but is plagued by tailwinds that decrease lift during landing. This imposes a weight restriction that reduces the EMB 190 capacity from 98 to 68, although this could be revised upwards with operational experience. 

The first trial passenger flight was flown by Airlink on 3 May this year from Cape Town via Namibe (Angola), with an AVRO RJ85 which returned the same day.

The UK government has spent £275m on the construction of the airport, which is aimed at helping the island to become more self-sufficient, encouraging economic development while reducing dependence on British government aid. It is also expected to kick-start the tourism industry, with up to 30,000 visitors expected annually. The 4-star Mantis Hotel, with 30 bedrooms, had a soft opening on Saturday, nearly doubling the island’s hotel room capacity, plus bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Time was short for an in depth tour but in 24 hours I managed to get around.

The highest point of the island is Diana's Peak at 818m (2,684ft). In 1996, it became the island's first national park. Much of the island is covered by New Zealand flax, a legacy of former industry, but there are some original trees augmented by plantations, including those of the Millennium Forest project, which was established in 2002 to replant part of the lost Great Wood and is now managed by the St Helena National Trust. 

The Millennium Forest is being planted with indigenous gumwood trees. There are no native land mammals, but cattle, cats, dogs, donkeys, goats, mice, rabbits, rats and sheep have been introduced. 

St Helena has a nine-hole golf course (you go round twice to complete an 18-hole round) and there are only nine greens but 18 tees, so it’s not quite the same on the inward half. The course is currently par-8.

The four seasons are not recognised on St Helena, as there are no drastic weather patterns. The hottest months are between January and March. For much of the year, temperatures remain between 70-80°F (20-27°C) but nights and early mornings can get colder in June, July and August. Up to 30in of rain has been recorded but in terms of wet weather, the island is on par with London.

The government of St Helena produces its own coinage and banknotes for the island’s own currency, the St Helena pound, which is at parity with the pound sterling. The Bank of St Helena was established on the island and Ascension Island in 2004 and has branches in Jamestown on St Helena, and Georgetown on Ascension. It took over the business of the St Helena Government Savings Bank and the Ascension Island Savings Bank.

The airport was dubbed by  The Guardian "the world’s most useless", a title it will take a little while to forget. It is certainly not useless. “Most expensive” might be more accurate, and while the island is perhaps a leftover from colonial times, we are now in the age of small aircraft flying a very long way. The British government had no alternative but to respect its responsibilities. A new ship in the 21st century was out of the question.

The inbound flight from Johannesburg’s fine OB Tambo International Airport took just 7hr, including a refuelling stop in Windhoek (Namibia), where we met up, airside, with passengers from Cape Town. 

AND FINALLY: Jealousy and envy

My Christian faith suggests that I ought not to suffer from the sins of jealousy, covetousness and envy.

To read that you are to be aboard the inaugural flight from Johannesburg to St Helena ignites all three!  

From Michael Bartlett, the Mad Monk, and Guiness World Record Holder for air travel.