Last updated: 01:34 PM ET, Mon April 25 2016

The World's Most Remote Island Finally Gets An Airport

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | April 25, 2016

The World's Most Remote Island Finally Gets An Airport

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Saint Helena, a tiny British Overseas Territory about 1,200 miles from the coast of South Africa, is most well known for being the site of Napoleon's final exile, from 1815 until his death in 1821.

Saint Helena has a population of about 5,000, but until this week, it could only be reached via a multi-day boat journey from Cape Town, South Africa. This past Monday, however, a 737-800 touched down at the island's newly built airport. This historic occasion marked the first ever commercial flight to Saint Helena. 

The flight took off from OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was operated by Comair, a subsidiary of British Airways. According to Comair, the plane will be used for regularly scheduled flights to the island from Johannesburg. 

Comair's Operations Director Martin Louw, who was on board for the historic journey, said the flight was uneventful, except for the incredible views, which have never before been seen by passengers of a commercial airliner. He also mentioned that the pilots took a very cautious approach to flying into this brand new airport:  “The flight itself was a ‘non-event’ – beautiful over the sea with a fantastic view of the Island coming into land. As you will have seen we did a few practice approaches just to make sure we understood the approach – safety is always paramount.”

This was actually not the first 737 to land on Saint Helena. Comair made a test trip and landed on the island in the days leading up to the first commercial flight. 

READ MORE: South African Airways to Resume Nonstop Joburg-JFK Flights

On an island of 5,000 people, there is not going to be too much demand for commercial air travel. However, the addition of an air link could be very helpful for Saint Helena's virtually nonexistent tourism industry. The island is naturally beautiful and it has an interesting history that dates back to Napoleon. Also, there is the allure of saying that you have visited one of the more remote places on earth before everyone else. 

Airlines are aware that there could potentially be more demand for flights from tourists. Cape Town has been suggested as a second option. Also, since Saint Helena is officially a British territory, flights from London could also be in the cards in the future.

For now, though, British Airways passengers can connect to the Saint Helena flight in Johannesburg.  

In these early days of commercial air travel on the island, it is the residents of Saint Helena who will benefit the most from these flights. Before now, they would have to spend five days traveling to Cape Town by boat. They were, more or less, cut off from civilization and dependent on supplies that arrived via sea.

The planes will bring a closer connection to the outside world and a major change in lifestyle for the residents of an island that may no longer qualify for the title of the "world's most remote place." 

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