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Hangar Talk September 2016

"Watch the Bribe" by Tom Chalmers

THIS WELL-known phrase used by photographers for umpteen years to get children to look at a model of a brightlycoloured little bird suspended on the end of a stick so that their attention could be directed to where he wanted it before he pushed the shutter release, is a phrase which should also be remembered by construction engineers – especially those responsible for planning and building airports.

This is particularly true with the design and positioning of the new airport at St Helena, the tiny island in mid-Atlantic island where a brand new, £395-million airport has had to be closed after only a handful of aircraft had landed on it because of violent turbulence and severe windshears on the approaches to both ends of its single runway, which basically links the 1 000- foot cliff faces of the small plateau on which it is built.

What an utter waste of money and what a financial burden has been thrown into the laps of the 4 600-plus inhabitants whose basic living is dependent on tourism, which the new airport was supposed to have boosted (see full story in the August edition of World Airnews).

The decision to build the new airport at its present location was taken despite the misgivings of some of the engineers tasked with determining its position in the late 1970s who warned of the dangers.

The original site suggested for the airport was turned down for a number of reasons in the light of recommendations for the position where it now resides – unused and unlikely to be in the foreseeable future. Even that early runway’s site was bedevilled with severe turbulence on its approaches, not to mention windshear.

In addition, the new runway’s direction is some 20 degrees off that of the trade winds, which often reach a velocity of 30 knots and upwards, which is enough to cause deep concern for any aircrew flying to the island. Then there is the thorny question of the turbulence and severe windshear which seems to have been totally ignored by the planners. Add to this the fact that the nearest civilian airport which could be used as an alternate, is Windhoek some 1 800 nm distant.

Chester Chandler, a retired South African Airways captain who also has a full bag of instructional hours with both student pilots and airline captains, as well as his thousands of hours in command, telephoned me the other day about this St Helena Airport fiasco.

“What were these guys thinking of?” he asked referring to the design and construction engineers. “They get all worked up with their instruments and computers and spend a fortune on a no-good runway. Yet they had the best instruments of the lot to see what the wind was doing – the seabirds. They only had to watch how the birds coped with the wind conditions by these cliffs, to realise that it was not feasible to build an airport where they did. And what’s more, they compounded the problem by building a whole new cliff face at the one end.”

Apart from the fact that the ship, which for many years plied between St Helena and Cape Town on a fortnightly basis bringing supplies and tourists to the island which was due to have been withdrawn last month, has been given a new lease of life for at least two years, the whole fiasco has gone very quiet.................................................To read the full article please subscribe to our E Magazine Here.

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