Safety fears halt airport opening on remote St Helena island

28th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

The opening of an airport on St Helena, one of the world's most remote islands, has been postponed indefinitely after test flights revealed dangerous wind conditions, officials said Thursday.

The airport, constructed between soaring mountains and the South Atlantic Ocean, was designed to boost tourism and revive the community on the British territory where Napoleon was exiled and died in 1821.

An opening ceremony to be attended by Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, had been scheduled for next month to mark the start of weekly commercial flights from Johannesburg, four and half hours away.

But the 250-million-pound ($360 million) airport will remain closed after a test flight last week measured severe turbulence and wind data.

The only way to reach the island is a five-day journey by sea from Cape Town by a mail boat that is due to be decommissioned this year.

"It is quite a disappointment, but when you are talking about airports, everything revolves around safety," Ian Jones, the St Helena government spokesman, told AFP, speaking from the island's capital Jamestown.

"There are some side winds and windshear that we knew about, but it is not until you land a full-size aircraft that you fully understand the conditions.

"We did not realise how serious it was."

Jones said the airport had no new opening date, but analysis of wind data, new observational equipment and adjustments to the approach route would be considered to enable the runway to open.

An amateur video on the Internet showed the Boeing 737 test flight aborting its first landing attempt seconds before touchdown and climbing steeply back into the air.

"Difficult wind conditions, including turbulence and windshear, are encountered and safely managed at many airports around the world," the island's government said in a statement.

"Everyone involved remains committed to commencing commercial flights to and from St Helena at the earliest possible opportunity."

A mountain ridge had to be lowered and a small valley filled in during the construction of the airport, which has a 1,950-metre long runway.

It was first due to open in February, but building work was not yet completed.

Located nearly 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from the African coast, St Helena has about 4,200 residents, one bank, and no cash machines.


© 2016 AFP

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