I recently visited the airport site which is just under two years from being open (Feb 2016). It is being built by the South African construction company Basil Read at a cost to the British Taxpayer of around £200Million.
Visiting the site and what can be seen so far reflects the impressive accomplishments which have taken place. Just thinking about the logistics of quoting for a job like this makes your head spin. Basil Read have had to import much of the equipment via their own ship which comes in around once a month from Walvis Bay in Namibia. Then the equipment had to make its way up to the airport site which meant there had to be a new road built before anything could start up here.
One of the greatest achievements, which is still work in progress is the filling of Dry Gut which is a valley which just happens to be in the flight path of our potential aircraft landing. Therefore Dry Gut needs to be filled. Its not just being filled, it has to be filled in layers and then tamped down and then left to settle and then checks made for subsidence. The photos give some idea of the scale of this part of the project.
So far the Airport build is on time and with no accidents which considering the location and challenges here is marvellous.
The Airport terminal is currently being erected and has been located in a way that the building is shielded from much of the island’s view to keep things tidy. The building seems larger than I imagined so I guess they are preparing for more than the planned one or two flights a week which is what’s being talked about at the moment.
The runway is currently being widened and lengthened as the original runway plan didn’t meet requirements for longer haul aircraft. I think the 737-700 is the plane of choice at the moment. There are many more stringent requirements for planes to fly to St Helena as there is nowhere to make an emergency landing so fuel loads will be maximised. Also the location dictates that air services to St Helena will have to operate to the requirements of Extended Twin Engine Operations System, (ETOPS)
Critical to the success of the new airport will be air traffic control’s ability to land aircraft in the challenging weather conditions the island experiences. Given the isolation of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, diversions due to weather could be extremely costly in terms of additional fuel burn. Honeywell systems have the contract to provide landing support with a product called Smartpath.
I think by the time the airport opens, the world will be watching this little speck of an island in the South Atlantic. Many people have vowed to visit once the airport opens and in fact our tourist office here is already receiving enquiries as to where tickets can be bought. Less than two years to go and so much to do!!