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The construction of St Helena Airport on the British overseas island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean is entering its final phases after 11 years of planning and building work. As such, the airport site will no longer be accessible to the public from August 17, 2015.

Deon de Jager, island director for Basil Read, the construction firm responsible for the project, said, “We have appreciated the interest and support from all those who have participated in the various tours.

“But we are now in the final stages of construction of an airport and our thoughts must turn to its operation. Like any other international airport, we are required to put in place strict security measures and we need to start planning for and doing this now.”

In July 2015, Basil Read completed the construction of paving and lighting for the airport’s runway. As of August 2015, the airport’s terminal building neared 70% completion, the ATC tower stood 90% complete, and the access road to Rupert’s Bay was 80% complete.

The island of St Helena is located in the South Atlantic Ocean, approximately 2,000km west of Angola in Africa. It has a population of more than 4,000 and is only accessible by boat. In 2011, the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) appointed South Africa-based engineering firm Basil Read to construct an airport on a £250m (US$390m) design, build and operate contract.

“Although the construction of the airport runway had its engineering challenges, the logistics involved are what made the project extremely daunting,” said Jimmy Johnston, project director at Basil Read. “About 70,000 tons of goods, including 22 million liters of diesel, 25,000 tons of cement and 5,000 tons of explosives, had to be transported to our Walvis Bay bond yard for transportation. Sailing time to St Helena with supplies was a seven-day task, with an overall shipping cycle taking about 22 days.”

To help combat some of the logistical issues, local building materials were integrated whenever possible including the use of black basalt stone and red and grey pumice on the airport buildings. This had the added benefit of helping to create a sense of place for passengers arriving on the island.

Another major factor for Basil Read to consider was the impact of the project on local wildlife and the environment. As such, the Government of St Helena put in place strict guidelines for the builders which included a detailed Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP).

“Environmental impacts were identified for both the construction period and following the opening of the airport,” said Janet Lawrence, airport project director for the St Helena Government.

“Measures were identified to avoid, reduce or offset impacts and these measures have influenced construction methods, scheme designs and how the airport would operate.

“For example, the permanent loss of some Wirebird (St Helena Plover) habitat, particularly at Prosperous Bay Plain, has been compensated by a program that has created additional habitat. This means that the overall island-wide effects on the Wirebird are likely to be neutral.”

Efforts have also been made minimize the environmental impact from the airport buildings by ensuring that the terminal and Combined Building will be naturally ventilated. Solar power systems will also provide the airport with hot water.

When complete, the airport will be capable of handling Code C aircraft such as the Boeing 737-700 or Airbus 319. This will include planes operated by South African airline Comair, with regular flights running between Johannesburg and the island. The

airport is scheduled to handle its first flight in February 2016, from which point Basil Read will assume operations for a 10-year period with the assistance of a team from Lanseria International Airport in South Africa.

“This is the very first time that St Helena will be accessible by air,” added Lawrence. “Initially, it will accommodate one weekly scheduled flight, but the airport has the capacity to grow. It is too early to say what the future demands will be, however it is hoped that tourism grows and this will be monitored over time.”

Top image copyright of Remi Bruneton. Bottom three images courtesy of St Helena Access Office

Article by Daniel Symonds

August 14, 2015

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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