Edit 17th October 2017: The Airport is now open!

After spending £285 million on a project and spending 4 years constructing it, you’d expect some quick return on your investment.

Not so with the St Helena Airport project, under construction since 2012 , it has just had its opening indefinitely delayed due to “high shear winds” making landings too dangerous. Read the news article here.

The airport is required as St Helena (population 4,250) is 1,200 miles (2,000km) from the nearest land, and sea journeys (once every 3 weeks – so don’t miss the sailing!) take 5 days each way. One of the benefits was to increase tourism to the island, and therefore income for the island, reducing its dependence on UK state aid.

This airport project has been a long time coming to fruition, with initial considerations examined in 1943, and a long political funding debate occurring between 1999 and 2010. Even with the construction started and agreed, debate and changes about the length and facilities on the airport runways and aprons were ongoing, and these runway facilities determine the type of aircraft capable of using the airport.

The confusion continues because aircraft that CAN use the facility CANNOT carry a full load of passengers and cargo due to their range restrictions.

The irony continues beyond this: Because of the remote location and limited harbour facilities (all construction machinery and materials need to be shiped in) this has required a development of harbour landing facilities for shipboard cargos, allowing for potential opportunity to passing cruise ships to make a stop-over and increase tourism.

A clear strategic aim, but perhaps the cost of a new and larger harbour and mooring facilities would have been the better project? The airport project had unclear and un-agreed project objectives throughout its life, probably being influenced by the various stakeholders, and initially gaining approval for limited (smaller) facilities that then became more detailed, and more complex. Projects are often “approved” and then “changed” by powerful stakeholders.

I would imagine that military considerations swayed the decision to go with the airport project, with the Falkland Islands a mere 3,800 miles away.

RMS Saint Helena

There is however good news from the story for cargo liner RMS Saint Helena the regular ship carrying passengers (maximum 128) and cargo. Her imminent demise has been delayed until at least September 2016.

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Posted On: 10th June 2016

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