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Flarepath August 2016

The Plight of St Helena

THE SAINT Helena Airport fiasco is causing many of the island’s approximately 4 600 residents to face financial ruin as this remote Atlantic Ocean outpost relies heavily on tourism and with the newly constructed airport now having been indefinitely closed due mainly to dangerous cross winds and vertical windshear, little succour is apparent.

The ship which has plied for many years on a fortnightly service between St Helena and Cape Town bringing tourists, food and supplies – the only link with the island -- is being faced with scrapping as it has reached the end of its serviceable life, but although this date has been slightly extended as an emergency measure, it still has to be dry-docked before this month is out for its mandatory annual inspection.

Despite warnings that the new airport was being built in the wrong place with both ends of its sole runway at the top of cliffs 1 000 feet above the sea and surrounding hills causing dangerous and severe wind turbulence, it was decided to go ahead with its construction. This, also despite the fact that the runway was built out of alignment with the prevailing trade winds, resulting in virtually every landing and take off being a cross-wind one with the flight limitations that involves.

Yet, a survey carried out in the late 1970s showed that a possible position for the then proposed airport would be the Prosperous Bay Plain (some distance from the site later chosen and with better possible wind conditions). But even then there were doubts, as one of the surveyors involved in that study, Royal Engineer Major Glynn Berry (now retired), said in a recent letter, a copy of which was made available to World Airnews: “Although I selected Prosperous Bay Plain as the site, I oriented my concept strip (runway) in line with the trades, so landing would be over land rather than over sea. Regardless, I decided it was all too risky for any aircraft within my parameters so I declared it not feasible. The £300-million budget and modern technology could change all that, of course, but I am not sure it has!”

As matters stand at the moment and despite the St. Helena Government (SHG) claiming to have identified aircraft which could operate into the new strip safely and operators which would be prepared to fly to the island, in the interests of safety, it would be very risky, if not plain madness, to go ahead with operations, given the severe turbulence, windshear, crosswind and dense fog factors experienced at the new airport and even not considering the fact that the nearest alternate landing field is Windhoek, in Namibia, some 1 800 nautical miles distance.

Yet the British Government spent nearly three hundred million pounds on its construction saying that replacing the aging RMS St. Helena would cost £64- million to replace and, basically, was not an option. This was deemed uneconomical, despite the fact that three entirely new ships could be built for the amount spent on the airport and still have nearly half-a-million pounds of the money left over which has — by the look of it — has been wasted on the new airport. Tourism at the moment has all but dried up, although latest news is that the ship will continue operating for a few more voyages and that, by all accounts, all berths have already been fully booked.

Scant encouragement for the hotel owners/keepers, restaurateurs, and other trades folk who depend on income from tourists. Many are already faced with power being cut off because they simply do not have the income to meet the bills. In advance of the proposed opening in May (since abandoned) of the airfield by Royalty and the anticipated influx of tourists which the SHG and others had all but promised, this has not happened and the rooms stand deserted and the tables empty.

But what of the costs already incurred by “Saints” – the island name for its inhabitants -- who have outlaid large sums importing food, drinks and other goods (with the customs duties involved) to meet the expected influx. No government official or person has come forward with a solution, let alone recompense........................................ To read the full article please subscribe to our E Magazine Here.

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