JSE-listed construction group Basil Read reported on Thursday that it had been awarded a R2.7-billion contract to build and operate an airport on the isolated Island of St Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Officially a British Overseas Territory, the island, which measures 16 km by 8 km, has hitherto had no airport. In fact, the island is currently connected to the rest of the world through the last remaining Royal Mail Ship, the RMS St Helena, which operates between Cape Town and the island.
Basil Read CEO Marius Heyns tells Engineering News Online that the award followed from the reopening of a long-running bidding process that had previously been shelved.
Italian contractor Impregilo was awarded the initial contract, but the British government pulled back in light of the recent global economic turmoil. In January, fresh design, build, operate and transfer bids were sought from both Impregilo and Basil Read, but only the South African group made an offer.
The UK government’s Department for International Development will fund the project, which will involve a 3 500 m² airport building and a 1.8-km concrete runway, with a taxiway and apron able to cater for aircraft of a size equivalent to an Airbus A320, or a Boeing 737-800.
The scope of the works also includes an eight-million cubic metres rockfill embankment through which a 750-m-long reinforced concrete culvert will run, air traffic control and safety systems, a bulk fuel installation for six-million litres of diesel and aviation fuel and a 14 km access road up the mountain to the airport site.
Temporary harbour facilities would also be developed to allow a roll-on/roll-off vessel to bring in materials from South Africa and Basil Read would also develop a temporary runway to enable the use of a C130-type aircraft to facilitate quicker access to the site. That runway should be developed within 18 months of the start of construction.
The logistics will be a significant portion of project planning, as the contractors would need to bring in everything from food to the building materials needed for the development of the airport building, which would be of a similar size to the airport in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. Basil Read’s airport operational expertise would be drawn from its joint venture relationship with the Lanseria Airport, in Gauteng.
The client is the St Helena government, which sees the airport as key to improving logistics and supporting economic development on an island that has a population of just over 4 000. Located some 1 900 km from Africa, Ascension Island is its nearest neighbour, some 1 000 km away.
Heyns says the design phase would begin immediately and he anticipates that construction could begin in May 2012. At peak construction, some 300 people will be employed on the project. Most of the expertise will be derived from South Africa, but Basil Read has indicated that it will employ as many locals as possible in the building and the operation of the facility.
Construction will take place over a 48-month period, while operation of the airport will continue for ten years at a contract value of about R450-million.
The award has increased the size of Basil Read’s order book to R12.5-billion. The company’s order backlog stood at R10.2-billion at the end of June.