St Helena airport opening postponed

St Helena airport opening postponed

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The opening of a £250 million airport on the island of St Helena has been postponed indefinitely after trial flights showed dangerous wind conditions.

The Earl of Wessex was due to conduct a ceremony at the cliff-top airport on the remote South Atlantic island after arriving on the inaugural flight.

Tests with a Boeing 737-800, which will fly a weekly service to Johannesburg, revealed a problem with turbulence and wind shear on the approach to the runway, the Times reported.

Until now St Helena, Britain’s second oldest and most remote overseas territory, could be reached only by sea.

The ageing Royal Mail Ship St Helena is due to be retired, leaving the island with no outside link to the world until the airport can be made safe.

A statement from the island’s government said it was committed to the swift commissioning of the airport but safety was paramount.

The 737, operated by British Airways’ South African subsidiary Comair, had to make a second attempt at landing on the first trial flight.

St Helena commissioned a safety study from the Met Office, which said that although the risk of wind shear was relatively low, other problems such as cross winds had not been anticipated.

It said that more observational equipment must be installed close to the runway to understand the localised wind risks. A windsock in view of the control tower would also help.

St Helena costs more than £25 million in annual budgetary aid. The hope is that an airport will encourage tourism and stop the fall in the population.

The Royal Mail ship is to pay a final visit to London in June, where it will be moored beside HMS Belfast and used to encourage tourists to visit the island. It may, however, be forced back into service.

One of the main attractions will be the final home of Napoleon, who spent six years in exile there until his death in 1821. He was buried on the island before his remains were returned to Paris to be entombed in Les Invalides.

The average price for a return ticket to the UK with British Airways via Johannesburg is expected to be around £1,400.

A return trip by sea from Cape Town takes almost three weeks.


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