South African regional carrier Airlink has begun operations with the first of its incoming fleet of Embraer E190s, operating scheduled flights on its Pietermaritzburg (South Africa) and Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) routes.

Johannesburg-based Airlink has three of the new type on strength and plans to build up a fleet of 13 E190s and E170s, gradually replacing its existing inventory of 12 Avro RJ85s. The airline said the E190 will allow it to introduce a business-class cabin on the Pietermaritzburg and Bulawayo routes, as well as give passengers additional seat pitch.

The E190 will have six business-class and 92 economy seats, with the eight front economy cabin rows forward of the emergency exit featuring 33-inch seat pitch. 

The E-Jets will also provide Airlink with superior operational performance and range, according to the airline, which also operates a substantial fleet of ERJ 135s, ERJ 140s and ERJ 145s.  Eleven further ERJ 140s began arriving in December 2016 and will take the ERJ fleet to 30 of the type by the end of this year.

One new route for the E190s, which will have ETOPS certification, will be the Johannesburg to St Helena route. St Helena is a remote British possession in the South Atlantic, which has been searching for a suitable aircraft to serve its new airport after windshear and tailwind problems rendered it unsuitable for the initially planned operator, South Africa’s Comair. British Airways franchisee Comair had planned to operate a Boeing 737-800 into the island.

The St Helena government and Airlink signed an agreement in July 2017 for scheduled air services and Airlink will also operate a monthly charter service between St Helena and Ascension, another British-administered island 700nm northwest of St Helena.

Over the coming weeks, Airlink will be finalizing regulatory approvals with the South African Civil Aviation Authority for the St Helena link. Following necessary approvals, it is anticipated services will start in October.

The E190 will have a refueling stop at Windhoek International Airport, Namibia in both directions. On both legs of the journey, there will be an opportunity for a connection at Windhoek to a connecting flight to and from Cape Town, South Africa. 

Alan Dron