Saturday, 14 May 2016

St Helena Airport: To Be or Not To Be? That still seems to be the question.

St Helena Independent 13th May 2016

Another confusing week goes by and still we are no clearer as to when/if commercial aircraft will be able to use the new airport than at the time of my previous posting on the subject. The St Helena Independent on its front page has a photo which perhaps suggests a solution!

First the good news. The airport has received certification

Another major milestone for St Helena Airport was achieved yesterday afternoon, Tuesday 10 May 2016, when Air Safety Support International (ASSI) issued an Aerodrome Certificate to St Helena Airport - having been satisfied that the Airport infrastructure, aviation security measures and air traffic control service complies with international aviation safety.

So far so good. Then we are informed that this certification is valid only until November 9th 2016, at which point it will need to be re-certified. This apparently has nothing to do with the wind problem, and one rightly asks what will happen if commercial flights have not even begun by that date? 

The official update dated 9th May is worth studying for clues:

Work is now underway to gather and analyse data and put in place mitigation measures to deal with turbulence and wind shear at St Helena Airport - to ensure the safe operation of regular passenger flights. The safety of aircraft and passengers is, of course, paramount.

At present there are no plans to extend the service of R.M.S. St Helena which will shortly be on its way to London, but SHG

will ensure passenger and freight access to St Helena & Ascension. The Governor is chairing high level meetings twice a week to work on access to the islands.

The question of medical access is also being examined: presumably medical flights will involve smaller planes which will not run into the same problems as larger commercial aircraft?

Then we come to the real issue:

Specific steps are being taken to address turbulence and wind shear at the Airport, involving analysis of all available and new data, including weather data, plus formal reports from pilots of all aircraft that have landed at St Helena Airport. Reports on the strength of wind conditions will be maintained and regularly updated and consideration will be given to installing specialised wind measuring equipment Computer modelling is also being developed to test different scenarios, and some wind tunnel work may also be carried out.

I wonder how many planes have so far landed on the new airport, and therefore how extensive is the date set on which modelling is to be based?

The statement ends with an assurance that all parties are working flat out to commence commercial flights at St Helena Airport at the earliest possible opportunity and that the public will be kept fully informed.

I can't help feel a little sorry for the new Governor who must have expected a Royal Visitor at Plantation House for the grand ceremonial opening of the new airport, but is instead faced with a host of problems which neither she nor anybody else in the St. Helena or Westminster Governments expected, because nobody would listen to Brian Heywood the retired airline pilot who warned the Prime Minister back in 2010. I am even more sorry for those who have invested time and money in preparation for the expected influx of tourists.

I am also a little surprised that the press in the UK has largely ignored this problem. But things closer to home are perhaps not quite going according to plan either.


Anonymous said...

It is amazing how such bumbling bureaucracy and lack of efficiency in public sector planning can have such a devastating impact on the many development opportunities that air travel would open to the island.

Hopefully they will sort out the issues and get on with it soon. I'm from America and would very much like to visit!

John Tyrrell said...

Yes I agree. Had they installed appropriate equipment to monitor the winds at the time they started the project they would presumably by now have sufficient data to manage the problem - or at least they would be in a better position than they now find themselves in.

St Helena is well worth a visit by the way. An amazing place and lovely people.