Friday, 22 July 2016

The Airport Debacle: "How ever did they win [the war]?"

St Helena Independent, July 21st 2016

I don't keep up with what goes on in Parliament, but the St. Helena Independent has confirmed the conclusions I came to in my most recent post on the St. Helena airport: the extended period of test flights to prove the viability of the design never took place, or to be more precise, they were condensed into a single day in 2006. Also the flights recommended after the completion of the airport were not considered necessary because, according to Baroness Anelay, the new DfD Minister, the runway had been extended by 150 metres. Neither the Independent nor I can figure out how this was supposed to remove the problems of windshear.

In one of my favourite episodes of Fawlty Towers a group of German tourists visits Basil Fawlty's shambolic hotel in Torquay, and at the end of the visit one of them asks how on earth the UK won the war? Following the Brexit fiasco, no plan if the country voted to leave, the Chilcot report on Iraq, no post-invasion plan whatsoever, and now the St. Helena Airport fiasco, I am despairing of the amateurism which seems to encapsulate the way the UK and its dependencies are governed. I can understand why the U.S. Secretary of State found it hard to keep a straight face at the joint press conference held with our new Foreign Secretary.

Legion d'honneur: Award for Michel Dancoisne-Martineau

First Legion d'Honneur Investiture, 1804 - painting by Jean Baptist Debret (1812)

The Legion of Honour, first instituted by Napoleon in 1802 is the pre-eminent merit award in France. It was from the beginning a secular award, and unlike pre-revolutionary titles and awards, open to all ranks of society.

It is very pleasing to hear that on July 14th, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau was awarded the rank of chevalier (Knight) to add to his previous award, Chevalier Ordre national du Mérite in 2011.

This is a fitting recognition of Michel's work on St. Helena, culminating in the successful exhibition in Paris this year.

Michel's adoptive father Gilbert Martineau, who preceded Michel on St. Helena, was awarded and O.B.E by the British Government, as well as a number of French awards, including Commander in the national Order of Merit and Officer in the National order of the Legion of Honor.

I have long felt that the British Government should have given Michel some recognition of the contribution he has made to the island, above and beyond his work with the French national properties, over the past 25 years. The list that I know of includes the following: work with the National Trust, particularly safeguarding the area around the heart shaped waterfall; animal welfare; teaching French in St. Andrews School; provision of allotments to Saints at the Briars; a major contribution to employment and training on the island. I could have added having to suffer impoliteness and too often sheer rudeness from a number of British tourists!

I don't think many Saints fully appreciate how lucky they have been to have him there.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

St Helena Airport: The First Tourists Arrive!

Three Belgian philatelists arrive by private jet - only 9997 more to go

The St Helena Government has announced the resumption of the R.M.S. St Helena until July 2017, over a year after the airport was meant to be up and running. Clearly no solution is in sight for the windshear problems which have caused the cancellation of commercial flights.

I have for some time had my worries about the St. Helena airport project, and my recurring nightmare is that the real future of the island will be as a haven for wealthy people who can afford private jets.

I have recently come across extracts from the 2005 report by Atkins Management Consultants which noted that

The nature of the weather (recording of local variations – wind direction and strength, visibility, temperature and cloudbase – only started in mid-2004) on Prosperous Bay Plain has not been assessed in detail for long time enough. Currently weather readings are being gathered but at least one year’s and preferably three years’ recordings will be needed.

The report later went on to express its concerns about the local weather conditions, and to recommend a series of flights over Prosperous Bay Plain to assess the design before the project commenced.

There are doubts concerning local weather conditions, in particular, there are doubts about the amount of turbulence that could be expected on the approaches (due to the elevated location of the surroundings bluffs). Il is therefore recommended that, regardless of which aerodrome option is chosen and before the runway designed is finalized, a charter aircraft should fly test the approaches to and departures from the intended runway. This would ensure confidence in the final design and may be regarded as part of the design process applicable to St Helena’s circumstances. The most suitable aircraft for this would be the four-engines L 100 Hercules: this could route via Ascension Island for refueling and crew rest stops.

I wonder if these test flights ever took place. I have a strong suspicion that they didn't, but will be happy to be proved wrong.

The future of the island has been predicated on self funding though the expansion of tourism, which it has been hoped would build up to around 10,000 a year by 2020. This is now looking like a very sick joke, with no alternative plan in sight.

Were it not for other more pressing matters engulfing the UK's political class at the moment I think this would have been treated as a major political scandal. Not only has it been a waste of taxpayer's money, but more importantly it is a very real tragedy for the residents of St. Helena, and particularly for those who have invested in tourist related projects.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

St Helena Airport: A Serious embarrassment for the Government?

Lord Ashcroft has apparently had to abandon his plans to fly to St Helena in his private jet because his pilot thinks it would be too risky to do so. He has written an extensive article for Conservative Home which makes for far from happy reading. In it he reveals that he has had access to the reports of the pilots who have so far landed on the island, and clearly they make him wonder whether the airport will ever be serviceable.

Although aviation experts are working hard to try to find a solution to the windshear problems, there is a real danger that the airport could become a hugely expensive “white elephant” and a terrible embarrassment to the British Government.

If his fears are correct, this will be absolutely devastating for the island, and even if it is not and an eventual solution is found, it will in the meantime cause very serious hardship for many on the island, particularly those who invested heavily in the expectation of a massive increase in tourism.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

St. Helena Airport: Category C Awaits.

St. Helena Airport

The picture of the runway on Prosperous Bay Plain, towering some 1000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, does not particularly inspire me with a wish to fly to St. Helena.

There seems to me to be little margin for error, and the nearest alternative landing place is a mere 700 miles away.

Funchal Madeira - a Category C Airport

Clearly any pilot flying in will need to be well prepared to deal with the potential challenges. The regulations require that the pilot in command of any route must have adequate training for the route and take off and landing at the airports on the route, including alternatives that would be used in emergency. This includes knowledge of terrain, minimum safe altitudes, meteorological conditions and communication facilities.

Funchal: 2000 extension partly over the sea to lengthen runway

Airports are classified into categories A, B and C. Those in category B have issues regarding approach, weather, unusual characteristics and performance limitations. Category C airports pose additional problems in approach/take off/ landing. It is clear to me that the best St. Helena can hope for is a category C. Among those in that category in Europe are Funchal, London City, Innsbruck and Gibraltar.

Clearly once the meteorological parameters are better understood, special procedures will have to be put in place and appropriate training given to those pilots who are allowed to fly in and out of the airport. It strikes me that it will take some time for all that to happen, so it is probably unnecessary to say goodbye to the R.M.S. St. Helena just yet.