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18 APRIL 2016
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They call it the airport at the end of the world and no wonder. St Helena is a dot in the South Atlantic, 1,950km (1,210mi) west of the border between Namibia and Angola in south-west Africa and 4,000km (2,500mi) east of Rio de Janeiro. It is about 16km (10mi) long and 8km (5mi) wide and had a population as of the 2008 census of precisely 4,255, though presumably a few more now.
Put another way, St Helena is a very long way from the nearest major landmass, and until now could be reached only by sea. The voyage takes five days from Cape Town with a departure once every three weeks. According to the statisticians, this made St Helena one of the most remote populated places on earth in terms of travel time from major cities.
Now, finally, in a tribute to the triumph of vision and persistence, St Helena has an airport, an achievement that deserves a wider audience than hitherto apparent.
The airport is scheduled to open next month and for St Helena residents, known as ‘Saints’, who once counted the banished Napoleon among their number, it means their island will for the first time be linked to the rest of the world by air.
The idea of an airport was first mooted in 1943 by the South African Air Force, which undertook a survey but concluded the project was not feasible. Pressure began to build again from the 1960s and the island government took up the cause in 1999, succeeding eventually in securing an agreement from the UK government in 2005. After further delays caused by the 2008 credit crunch, construction contracts were signed in November 2011.
As reported in this issue, South Africa-based BA partner airline Comair and the island’s own Atlantic Star Airlines will be ahead of the field providing the first aviation links with the outside world, Comair via scheduled service to Johannesburg and ASA operating a charter to Luton, both using the B737-800.
Officials say the airport will help St Helena towards self-sufficiency, encourage economic development and reduce dependence on UK government aid by kick-starting the tourism industry.
As exotic destinations go, it’s certainly different and, perhaps surprisingly, offers a tropical and mild climate. Temperatures in the capital, Jamestown, range from 21-28C in summer (January-April) and 17-24C the rest of the time.
Next time you want to wind down after a business trip, St Helena could be just the place.
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
David Starkie, United Kingdom
The exotic destination has a terminal of exotic size, all paid for by the UK tax payer.