The St Helena Airport
In the Beginning
Historically, many attempts were made to construct an airport on St Helena, it is said that the first attempt was in the 1940’s followed by feasibility studies in the 1960’s, 1970’s and in the 1990. In 2001, a company by the name of SHELCO submitted their plans to construct an airport on Prosperous Bay Plain, the plans showed two runway alignments. A year later SHELCO announced plans to build a 5-star hotel in conjunction with developing air access. This however was superseded by the British and St Helena Governments plans to construct the airport themselves. In 2004, the UK government commission WS Akins to carry out a comprehensive study for air access to the island. The report demonstrated that an airport would provide the catalyst for economic growth for the island.
How it all began
In 2005, Britain announced its plan to construct an airport on St Helena and the design process went ahead. WS Akins was consulted to prepare the generic designs and subsequently the tenders to design construct and operate was issued. Several interested contractors visited St Helena and in 2008, a company called IMPREGILO was chosen as the preferred bidder to construct an airport on St Helena.
The St Helena Airport pause
In December 2008, the British government announced a “pause” in the airport project; the credit crunch was blamed for the pause. However, IMPREGILO pulled out of the running which brought a South African company called BASIL READ back in contention and BASIL READ was eventually awarded the design construct and operate contract in November 2011.
Funding for the St Helena Airport
The airport project was funded with UK aid administered by DFID. The contract to design built and operate an airport in St Helena was signed in November 2011 between BASIL READ and the St Helena Government. The airport project is estimated to cost £250M GBP
The project consisted of a purpose modified ship to carry the construction materials from West Africa to St Helena, the design and construction of 14km of access road, 6 million litres of bulk fuel installation, drilling and blasting of 8000 cubic meters of rock, 2000m of concrete runway, terminal buildings, tower and fire facilities with associated lighting navigation and other services.
People who started the project
Approximately 430 staff was employed on the project which includes both overseas and on island. The staffing on island was approximately 360 of which 240 were SAINTS. The first saint Helenian to be employed by BASIL READ on the project was a civil engineer named Alan Hudson, he was employed as a Site Agent. He assisted BASIL READ to mobilise on island. He also found the water which was vital for the project and assisted the drilling of several ground water boreholes. Subsequently went on to manage all of the drill and blasting operations in the earthworks. BASIL READ established a depot in Namibia to tranship materials to St Helena for the airport and also converted a landing craft type ship to carry fuel, plant and materials to the island. This ship, the NP glory 4 was designed to dock against a newly constructed temporary jetty in Rupert’s Bay. The temporary Jetty was constructed in April 2012. In July 2012, the NP Glory 4 was first ship to dock against the shore.
The St Helena Airport time lines
Construction of the airport started on Prosperous Bay Plain in august 2012, the first blast on the project started in November 2012 which signalled the start of the major earthworks to fill dry gut. The access road started in March 2012 and was completed in November 2012. The dry gut fill started in December 2012 and was competed in September 2014. All the major earthworks were completed in December 2014. Work started on the concrete runway in September 2014 and was completed on September 2015. The combine building and the terminal building was started in July 2013 and was completed in February 2016.
The first Aircraft to land on St Helena.
The first aircraft to land on St Helena was the Beechcraft King Air 200 type aircraft. She landed on the newly constructed runway on the 15 September 2015. This was a historical moment watched by people on the Island.
St Helena Aircraft capability
The runway was designed to accommodate the Boeing 737- 800 or Airbus 319. The runway is approximately 2000m long with 1550m of available landing length.
BASIL READ in collaboration with LANSERIA airlines originally had a ten-year contract to operate the airport and air access to St Helena. COMAIR was selected as the preferred airline to operate an air service from Johannesburg (OR) Tambo International to St Helena and return. COMAIR bought a brand new 737- 800 aircraft to provide a weekly schedule flights from Johannesburg to St Helena and return, however on the first flight Comair experienced some difficulties with landing the new 737 at St Helena’s airport and the airport was branded as the world most useless airport. it was also unfortunate that Basil reads contract was ended by the St Helena Government after the collapse of the company in 2018.
The St Helena Airport is now operating by the St Helena Government/The St Helena airport limited.
The construction of the Airport was completed in February 2016 and scheduled was officially scheduled to open to commercial air traffic in May 2016, however that never happened.
St Helena’s airport offers an open skies policy.
The first chartered commercial flight with paying passengers took place on the 3rd of May 2017. The normal flight schedule before COVID-19 departs Johannesburg every Saturday.