Saint Helena airport will require an “open checkbook” | UK News


A £ 285million airport built on a remote island in the South Atlantic with cash from the UK government will require ‘an open checkbook’ if it is ever to accommodate commercial airlines as planned, a hearing by a select committee.

Plans to build a clifftop trail in St Helena were approved in 2010 by then ministers Andrew Mitchell and William Hague, making it the largest investment ever made in a land of overseas. But its groundbreaking ceremony for commercial flights was suspended indefinitely in May after tests showed the planes could deviate from their path.

Department for International Development (DfID) officials on Wednesday were unable to tell the public accounts committee why they had not tested wind shear – a sudden and powerful change in wind direction which can destabilize jumbo jets – before the construction of the airport. Meg Hillier, the committee chair, said more public money would have to be spent if the airport was ever to work for the island’s 4,000 residents.

One of the most drastic options that were considered and rejected by officials was to blow up the tops of two mountains adjoining the airfield, the committee was told. The most likely option to make the airport usable would be to allow smaller planes to fly to the island instead of the planned Boeing 737s.

Hillier said officials have already spent their allotted money to make the airport usable. “Since there is a UK commitment to the Saints [inhabitants of St Helena] and these are UK citizens, given that it is your and DfID’s responsibility to make this happen, and given that there is an airport there, it looks like there is frankly an open checkbook because you spent all that good money and you’re not I’m not getting anything for it, ”she said.

Mark Lowcock, permanent secretary of DfID, has repeatedly told the committee he would rather not say who might be to blame for not finding out about the strong winds at the airport due to an ongoing internal review.

He said officials were in talks with carriers about launching flights, but that would involve much smaller planes than previously expected.

Stephen Phillips, a member of the Conservative committee, pointed out to Lowcock that in the 19th century anthropologist Charles Darwin in his travel journal The Voyage of the Beagle referred to the wind shear on St. Helena.

“Darwin wrote this:” The only drawbacks I encountered on my walks [on St Helena] were rushing winds. One day, I noticed a curious circumstance: standing at the edge of a plain, terminated by a great cliff about a thousand feet deep, I saw a few meters straight upwind, some tern, struggling against a very strong breeze, while where I stood the air was quite calm.

“If Charles Darwin, as he does in this passage, gives a very good example of windshear on St Helena in 1836, how do we get a position where DfID ordered a £ 285.5million airport? , paid by the British taxpayer, without appreciating the danger of wind shear?

Lowcock replied, “That’s a very good question, which I’ll try to answer in my review.”

Phillips also touched on the possible option, mentioned in previous media reports, of blowing up the peaks of two mountains. “I have the utmost respect for the public service, but I didn’t realize it could move mountains,” he said.

Lowcock replied, “I currently don’t plan to spend a lot of money exploring this option. My plan is to have a safe air service.

Caroline Flint, the former Minister of Labor, asked Lowcock if he was aware that businessman and former Tory donor Lord Ashcroft had advocated for the airport weeks before it was approved by ministers. Lowcock replied that he had not been approached by Ashcroft.

Ministers resist offering any compensation to those who have made investments on the basis that up to 30,000 tourists would fly to visit the remote island. Currently, it takes a five-day boat trip to reach St Helena from southern Africa.

An airline, Atlantic Star, on Wednesday urged the government to discuss a swift introduction of “essential air service” to and from St. Helena. His proposal would involve the use of a specialty Avro RJ100 jet, with the airline able to begin flights next spring.

The airline carried out a test flight to St. Helena on October 21. The island, located about 1,200 miles west of Angola, was where Napoleon went into exile in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo. He died there in 1821.


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