Saint Helena Airport

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Saint Helena Airport
First Comair Boeing 737-800 flight to Saint Helena Airport (191).jpg
Airport type Public
Owner Saint Helena Government
Operator Lanseria Airport
Location Longwood, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
Elevation AMSL 1,017 ft / 310 m
Coordinates 15°57′33″S 005°38′45″W / 15.95917°S 5.64583°W / -15.95917; -5.64583Coordinates: 15°57′33″S 005°38′45″W / 15.95917°S 5.64583°W / -15.95917; -5.64583
St Helena Airport is located in South Atlantic
St Helena Airport
St Helena Airport
Location of St Helena Airport
Direction Length Surface
m ft
02/20 1,950 6,398 Concrete
Sources: AIP St Helena,[1] St Helena Government[2]
Location of St Helena Airport
Cercle rouge 50%.svg
Location of St Helena Airport

Saint Helena Airport (IATA: HLEICAO: FHSH) is an international airport in the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, a remote island in the south Atlantic Ocean.

On 26 April 2016, it was reported the opening of the airport would be delayed indefinitely because of concerns about wind shear;[3][4] however, on 10 June 2016, the island's government claim these reports are "incorrect" and the airport is "certified and open" as demonstrated by successful medical evacuation flight.[5] The airport is also open to one-off, private flights.[6][7]

Scheduled air service from Johannesburg was due to commence on 21 May 2016; however, it was suspended before commencement due to the wind shear problem.[8] While the authority is looking for ways to resolve the issue, the authority is also looking for scheduled air services provided by another service provider which would use another direction of the runway that would not have severe wind shear problem but would instead suffer from tailwind.[9]


Saint Helena is more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from the nearest major landmass and can be reached only by sea. This takes five days from Cape Town, with departure once per three weeks, making Saint Helena one of the most remote populated places on earth, measured as travel time from major cities.


The first consideration of an airport on St Helena was made in 1943 by the South African Air Force, which undertook a survey on Prosperous Bay Plain from October 1943 until January 1944, but concluded that, while technically feasible, an airport was not a practical proposition.[10] From the 1960s, there was an idea[by whom?] to build an airport on the St Helena Island. In 1999, this was taken up by the island government.

After a long period of rumour and consultation, the British government in March 2005 announced plans to construct an airport in St Helena, that was expected to be completed by 2010. There were delays by the British government,[10] which went up to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown who insisted on personally reviewing the paperwork.[11] An approved bidder was appointed in 2008, the Italian company Impregilo. The project was suspended in November 2008, because of financial pressures brought on by the financial crisis of 2007–2010.

Approximately £202 million was funded for design and construction by South African engineering group Basil Read (Pty) Ltd. The UK government also granted additional funds of up to £10 million in shared-risk contingency, and £35.1 million for 10 years of operation by South African airport operator Lanseria Airport. This is 20% less in real terms from the 2008 price, taking into account inflation and the value of the pound, the St Helena government has said. The airport will be the largest single investment ever made in the island.[12]

As construction had not commenced and no final contracts had been signed by January 2009, the island's governor, Andrew Gurr, travelled to London in an attempt to speed up the process and solve the problems. On 22 July 2010 the British government agreed to assist in payment for the new airport.[13] On 3 November 2011 Governor Mark Andrew Capes announced construction contracts had been signed.[12]

The airport was due to open in June 2016, but the opening has been delayed due to wind shear concerns. The airport's advocates hope that it will bring growth to the island economy through tourism which, in the long term, is expected to lead to financial self-sustainability and an end to UK budgetary aid.[12]

The first aircraft, a Beechcraft King Air 200, landed on 15 September 2015 in order to perform calibration tests of the airport navigation systems.[14]

The first large passenger jet landed on 18 April 2016, a Boeing 737-800 operated by Comair for British Airways. It was an implementation flight to test the route, ground operations and handling, ahead of commencement of scheduled services.[15]

After the airport opens, the ship RMS Saint Helena, the only other transport that regularly serves the island, is due to be retired.[16][17]

Location and dimensions[edit]

The airport has been built on Prosperous Bay Plain, on the east side of Saint Helena, entailing a concrete runway length of 1,950 metres (6,398 ft)[18] with taxiway and apron, an approximately 8 million cubic metres (280 million cu ft) rockfill embankment through which a 750-metre (2,460 ft) long reinforced concrete culvert was proposed but contractor Basil Read got approval to use and open channel instead and this was approved by the St Helena Government, an airport terminal building of 3,500 square metres (38,000 sq ft) and support infrastructure, air traffic control and safety, bulk fuel installation for six million litres of diesel and aviation fuel, a 14-kilometre (9 mi) airport access road from Rupert's Bay to the airport, and all related logistics.[19] A new jetty was built at Rupert's Bay to enable the landing of supplies and construction vehicles. The airport has a LDA (landing distance available) of 1,535 metres (5,036 ft) for the northbound runway 02 and 1,550 metres (5,085 ft) for the wind shear affected southbound runway 20.[18]


Aircraft compatibility[edit]

The airport will accommodate up to two[20] twin-engined passenger aircraft up to the size of the Airbus A319, Boeing 737, and the Boeing 757-200. Following the decision for a shorter runway of 1,550 metres, the planned use of Boeing 737-800 aircraft had been ruled out in the first instance. Instead the airport was to be designed to receive Boeing 737-700 aircraft.[21] However, on 17 July 2012 the St Helena Government and Basil Read agreed to a change to the runway design which includes widening the embankment over an additional 40 metres (130 ft) at the southern end, paving an additional 100 metres (330 ft) of the runway with concrete, providing larger turning circles at the runway ends, and increasing the size of the apron.[22]

In contrast to the 2011 reference design for the airport it would now have a full 240-metre (790 ft) runway end safety area (RESA) at the southern end of the runway instead of the planned engineered materials arresting system (EMAS). The intention was to add an EMAS designed for Boeing 737-800 later butting onto the southern end of the paved runway to increase the declarable landing distance available (LDA) to 1,650 metres (5,410 ft),[23] to allow the operation of larger aircraft such as the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A320.[22][24]

The additional earthworks and concrete increased duration of construction by 12 weeks so works were expected to be completed by 25 February 2016.[22] Extending the embankment once the airport was operational would have involved prohibitive costs as heavy equipment would have needed to be brought back to the island and huge quantities of rock from another site to be moved, while material excavated from Prosperous Bay Plain was used to fill Dry Gut.[22]

In June 2013 the St Helena government announced it was again assessing changes to the design of the runway to cater for operations of a wider range of aircraft, in particular the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the Boeing 757-200, the latter enabling direct flights to Europe, crucial for the island's tourism plans.[25][26] These are Code D aircraft requiring the addition of shoulders along both sides of the runway, a wider taxiway and apron, and a higher fire fighting capacity (ICAO rescue fire fighting service category 7).[27]

In October 2013 a formal agreement was signed for the proposed design changes.[28] These enhancements will also make it possible for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules to operate to and from St Helena, though the runway is unlikely to be able to accommodate larger Code D aircraft, such as the Boeing 767.[28] The upgrade as to be funded from cost savings on other parts of the project,[26] particularly by a simplified runway drainage system.[27]

As a response to the wind shear problems found in 2016, Atlantic Star Airlines suggests using an Avro RJ100 aircraft which could better handle the airport conditions.[29] However, it does not really have the range wished, but can fly regularly to and from Ascension, but not with full number of passengers.[30]

Embraer Commercial Aviation have also landed its Embraer E190 (flying fro Recife) and reported there are no problem for the aircraft to land onto the airport and the aircraft also have sufficient range capability to fly from Cape Town to the airport.[31]


It is believed that reductions in ticket prices could be obtained by using spare payload capacity on flights to and from St Helena to carry air freight (e.g., agricultural products, coffee, fish).[32] At 70% passenger load factor a B737-800 operating, on an average day, into St Helena would have a spare payload capacity of some 4,000 kilograms (8,800 lb). The extra income possible per in-bound flight from cargo could be as high as the income equivalent of 19 passengers, giving an effective load factor of 88% and could reduce ticket prices.[33]


Due to the short runway and the long distance to South Africa, a Boeing 737-700 flying to Johannesburg is not able to use its full seat and cargo capacity. Only flights to and from Namibian and Angolan destinations would allow using a Boeing 737-700 near its full load capacity. The other planned destination, London, requires a fuel stop in Gambia, at almost the same distance as Johannesburg.

If Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island were open for commercial non-military flights, it could be listed as an alternate aerodrome; this would mean that the load capacity of an inbound Boeing 737-700 could be increased as fewer fuel reserves would be required.[citation needed]

The distance from key destinations, the length of runway available, and the type of aircraft available in the region dictate that air services to St Helena must operate to the requirements of extended twin engine operations (ETOPS) which implies the provision of an instrument approach system based on an off-set instrument landing system localiser (ILS LLZ).[34][35]

Such is also required by the terrain of the airport which, in commercial passenger air transport terms, is safety-critical due to its steep approaches, high elevation (1,000 ft or 300 m above sea level)[36] and rocky outcrops. Without an instrument approach the provision of a viable air service is considered impossible.[37]

There were doubts concerning local weather conditions and, in particular about the amount of turbulence on the approaches from fallwinds resulting from the elevated location and the surrounding bluffs. Therefore, it was recommended that a charter aircraft should perform approaches to and departures from the intended runway.[38] By April 2016 such flights had taken place, and they weren't 100% positive – see the section on Project Progress below.

Navigation aids[edit]

St Helena Airport was equipped with an instrument landing system (ILS) and a Doppler VHF Omni-directional Radio Range system (DVOR) supplied by Thales Group.[39] Further to that Honeywell Aerospace supplied a SmartPath ground-based augmentation system (GBAS), a technology that augments global positioning system (GPS) signals to make them suitable for precision approach and landing. It overcomes many of the limitations of instrument landing systems (ILS) traditionally used by airports to guide aircraft as they approach the runway.[40]

Project progress[edit]

Construction on Prosperous Bay Plain, February 2015

On 4 November 2011 Basil Read was awarded the contract to construct an airport on St Helena Island.[19] The first representatives of Basil Read visited the island on Saturday 19 November 2011 for initial investigations and discussions.[41] Following a second team's visit during December 2011 Basil Read's project manager had settled on the island and the first St Helenian citizen had been employed.[42] Preparation works were expected to begin in early 2012 in Rupert's Valley on the west coast, which included establishing storage facilities, a temporary fuel farm and the design and construction of a temporary wharf.[43]

Basil Read CEO Heyns in November 2011 said design phase would begin immediately and anticipated that construction could begin in May 2012, which at peak would employ some 300 people of whom as many locals as possible should be involved.[44] Construction is said to take place over a 48-month period.[45]

Only four weeks after the approval for the airport to be constructed and years before operations would start, Geo. Robson & Co. (Conveyors) Ltd. had already completed and shipped a baggage reclaim carousel for the airport. It will sit half inside the terminal and half outside for the baggage handlers to load with passengers' luggage. The company stated that with a 12-metre (39 ft) perimeter it is one of the smallest baggage reclaim carousels they have ever manufactured.[46] Until the airport opens it will be used at St Helena's harbour to deliver baggage to passengers arriving by the RMS St Helena.

Logistics of the airport's construction were critical, because of the island's isolated location and the lack of construction equipment, which would require everything such as extremely heavy duty equipment and materials to be shipped in, thus resulting in a huge and unique logistics operation.[42] Due to the limited landing infrastructure, with no breakwater or mooring facilities at the sea front, new harbour facilities capable of handling construction equipment and fuel supplies were constructed at Rupert's Bay.[47] Fuel transfers between Rupert's Bay and the aerodrome connected by a 14-kilometre haul road are assumed to be by road tanker for 20 years, after which a capital allowance has been made for enlargement of the bulk fuel storage and the installation of a fuel transfer pipeline.[35]

Basil Read has been sourcing its own ship, a roll-on/roll-off vessel[45] called NP Glory 4 flying the Thai flag,[48] which, as planned,[43] docked for the first time at St Helena on 11 July 2012 and has since been regularly supplying the island with cargo and personnel for the project.[49] The company also considered developing a temporary runway to enable the use of a C-130 Hercules-type aircraft to facilitate quicker access to the site within 18 months of the beginning of construction,[45] but this was not done.

In June 2013 the 100,000th truckload of fill went into Dry Gut, a gorge which had to be raised by almost 100 metres (330 ft) in order to create an embankment that would finally carry parts of the runway. This is equivalent to nearly 19% of the total of 8 million cubic metres required. Basil Read’s calculations showed that a further 430,000 truckloads of material would be needed to complete the fill. By the summer of 2015, the Dry Gut fill project had been completed and the new runway built.[50]

Calibration flights at the airport began in mid-September 2015, and a Beechcraft King Air 200 leased from TAB Charters in South Africa touched down on the island for the first time on 15 September of that year.[51] UK-based Flight Calibration Services undertook the flights and was to begin the journey from Lanseria International Airport, in Johannesburg, flying via Namibia and Angola. The aircraft was due be on site for an approximately one week to undertake the calibration flights, weather permitting.[52]

The first rotary-winged aircraft to use the airport was a AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2 of 201 Flight 825 Naval Air Squadron – callsign Voodoo – attached to the Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster during late October 2015. It was piloted by Flight Commander Dave Neyland.[53][54][55][56]

In November 2015 a delay of the opening from February to May 2016 was announced.[57] This was needed "in order to fine tune the operational readiness of the airport". On 26 April 2016 a further delay to the opening, without a specified end date, was announced by St. Helena Government because of concerns regarding wind shear, after a problematic landing by the Comair 737-800 intended for regular flights.[3] It is southbound landings (runway 20) that have wind shear problems, not northbound.[58] There is a need to define measurement methods for the wind shear in order to understand when landing can be done, and when to cancel flights. The late postponement has caused extra cost, for example contracted employees and contracted airlines that cannot operate, hotels that have been built, and also the need to extend the usage of the RMS ship, which was contracted to end its sailings.

UK-based Air Safety Support International (ASSI), a subsidiary company of the Civil Aviation Authority responsible for aviation safety in Overseas Territories, issued on 10 May 2016 a safety certificate after having conducted an inspection in April. The certificate indicates ASSI's satisfaction with the airport's infrastructure and aviation security measures, and that its air traffic control service complies with international aviation safety and security standards. ASSI did not allow the airport to go into commercial operation, however, due to concerns over operational readiness of monitoring and clearing issues that include wind shear and turbulence.[59]

There is a suggestion to use only runway 02, that is northbound landings and southbound starts, but then 737-800 aircraft cannot be used, because planes need to be able to land in tailwind.[60] If runway 20 is used, it will have severe wind restrictions. (This is the same one runway, designated differently as 02 or 20 depending on either north or south direction of travel).

An important reason to build the airport was availability for medical emergency evacuation. On 3 June 2016 the first ambulance flight took place, for a baby and its mother.[61]

A debate about the project was held by the House of Lords in London on 17 October 2016.[62]

A new certificate was delivered on 26 October 2016 by ASSI[63]

There are no aircraft dedicated to calibration flights, but occasionally such flights have taken place. On Friday 21 October 2016, an Avro RJ100 jet airliner sponsored by Atlantic Star Airlines landed on St Helena Airport, with 13 non-commercial passengers on board, as part of a delivery to Chile. Both pilots were from the Faroe Islands and had experience from there with landing in windy conditions.[64] An Embraer ERJ-190-100 operated by Embraer Aviation flew from Brazil and made a number of landings and starts on St Helena on 30 November and 1 December 2016.[65][66]

Project prospects[edit]

  • Air access would allow St Helena to develop its tourism sector.
  • A planned wharf in Rupert's Bay could allow regularly passing cruise ships to land passengers at the island and bring tourists if sized appropriately. The lack of a protected landing facility represents a limitation on the development of cruise tourism. In unfavourable sea conditions, landing is hazardous and potential revenue is lost as many cruise ships refuse to allow passengers to land in such circumstances. In addition, because there is no protected landing facility, many cruise companies do not incorporate St Helena into their itineraries. The sea is roughest in summer which marks the peak of the cruise season.[67]
  • Medical evacuations to South Africa for treatment of serious cases of illness would be sped up significantly: it may take up to one month until transport to South Africa by the RMS St Helena becomes available.
  • The availability of heavy construction equipment would facilitate alternative energy projects, such as the construction of larger wind turbines, a tidal power plant or a dam with a hydro-power station in one of St Helena's valleys.[68] Limitations in cargo size of RMS St Helena and the unavailability of a large crane prohibit construction of larger wind turbines.[69]

St Helena will have an open skies policy; this allows any airline operator who meets all the required standards to fly in and out of St Helena.[70] Avia Solutions Group was appointed to support the St Helena Government (SHG) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in reaching a contract with an air service provider to provide services to the island.[71]

On 16 March 2015 it was announced that SHG and DFID had appointed Comair Limited as the preferred bidder for the provision of air services to St Helena.[72] Comair is proposing a weekly flight between Johannesburg Airport and St Helena using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The flight time from Johannesburg to St Helena will be about four and a half hours. Reaction to the Comair announcement on St Helena was largely negative,[73] with stories of luggage loss and crime in Johannesburg, and the fact that many of St Helena's residents have personal links with Cape Town.[74] Concerns have also been raised about medical referrals, which are handled in Cape Town. These issues remain unresolved.

The St Helena Government expects that a return economy flight from St Helena to South Africa would cost around £600. Assuming that an off-peak economy seat from South Africa to the UK would be available for approximately £700, return tickets for flights via South Africa to the UK would take the total price to around £1,300.[75] On 9 October 2015 Governor Mark Capes confirmed that once a month there will be a flight from St Helena to Ascension Island provided by Comair.[76]

Airlines and destinations[edit]

Airlines Destinations
Atlantic Star Airlines
operated by TUIfly
Seasonal charter: London-Luton (suspended)[77][78]
British Airways
operated by Comair
Ascension Island (suspended),[4] Johannesburg-O. R. Tambo (suspended)[4]

On 9 October 2015, the Government of Saint Helena and the Ascension Island Government announced a connection between the two islands. The connection was to be flown by Comair using a Boeing 737-800. The flight would have taken about two hours to Wideawake Airfield. Comair’s air services between St Helena Airport and OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg were scheduled to commence in late May 2016, to coincide with the official opening of the airport on 21 May 2016. These dates have been postponed because of the problems with wind shear.[79]

Atlantic Star Airlines (operated by TUI Airlines Netherlands) had announced an intention to operate charter flights from London-Gatwick via Gambia (possibly starting May 2016)[80] using a Boeing 737-800, an aircraft requiring a fairly long runway. This leaves Lubango Airport in Angola, at a distance of 1,300 miles (2,100 km) as the next best diversion option for which every inbound aircraft must carry enough fuel reserve, limiting its load capacity.


There are two main buildings,[81] the terminal building, and the combined building for airport operations, e.g. air traffic control, rescue services, etc. In addition there are some smaller buildings.

The terminal building has a café, a gift shop, a duty-free shop and a restaurant.[82]

Strategic relevance[edit]

The airport will extend the United Kingdom's capabilities to carry out airborne missions in the South Atlantic region, such as maritime patrols in accordance with international fishing agreements (e.g., International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), counter-piracy missions along important trade routes, and also airlift operations notably into Southern Africa.

According to analysts the UK government's decision to finally go ahead with the airport, after long delays, seems to be driven in part by concerns over a continuing tense standoff with Argentina in the Falkland Islands sovereignty dispute. The island is about 3,812 miles (seven hours and 40 minutes' flight time) from the Falklands. But, analysts say that was nevertheless an improvement over the present state of isolation from the UK for both St Helena and the Falklands.[83]


Bidding process[edit]

According to Private Eye magazine, all of the companies tendering for the job of building and running the airport had by late September 2006 withdrawn from bidding for the project, which was to be funded by DfID. The local Access Office explained that the reasons were unclear but it seems the bidders considered the DfID has been unhelpful by not providing the possibility of on-site investigations in order to complete a detailed design before providing a fixed price for the project. According to the DfID's Director for Overseas Territories, his department remains committed to an airport for St Helena but at the time of the article there were no new bidders.[84]

DfID restarted the procurement process to identify a suitable Design, Build and Operate contractor in October 2006. Capability Statements were received by DfID in March 2007 and four bidders were pre-approved for the Design, Build and Operator contract and a further three applicants have been pre-approved for the Air Service Provider contract. The applicants for the DBO visited the island for six months from June 2007 before submitting their final proposals, and as of January 2008 DfID is down to a shortlist of two bidders.

It was reported in The Guardian on 10 December 2008 that UK Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander had announced a "pause in negotiations over the St Helena airport contract",[85] apparently related to the 2008 economic downturn.

The St. Helena Leisure Corporation (Shelco) was set up by Arup's Sir Nigel Thompson and Berwin Leighton Paisner's Robert Jones, planning to construct luxury resorts and a hotel to be run by Oberoi Hotels & Resorts in conjunction with the airport. The real estate was to be sold even before construction had started; the proposal was turned down by the local government and the DfID.[86]

Cost of airport was £285.5 million for DfID in April 2016.[4]

Environmental issues[edit]

Prosperous Bay Plain is one of the few remaining sites on Saint Helena that holds significant ecological diversity; according to a 2004 review by Atkins Management Consultants, the survival of numerous endemic species critically depend on preservation and protection of the location; it also is an important[according to whom?] nesting site for the wirebird, Saint Helena's national bird which is listed as critically endangered. Although Shelco still continues to be a major force pushing for the airport's construction, its co-founder Sir Nigel is the chairman of the environmental charity Campaign to Protect Rural England.[86][87][88]

See also[edit]


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  14. ^ "A Landing to be Remembered" (PDF). Saint Helena Independent. 18 September 2015. p. 6. 
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  73. ^ 20 March 2015
  74. ^ St Helena : Adjournment Debate Legislative Council 30th March 2015 by The Hon Mr Lawson Henry
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  78. ^!ATLANTIC-STAR-AIRLINES-GAINS-REGULATORY-APPROVAL/c10mv/56eaf6050cf2dfd2515ffac9
  79. ^
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  81. ^
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External links[edit]

Media related to Saint Helena Airport at Wikimedia Commons