Despite logistical challenges, construction of the airport on the remote island of St Helena, in the Atlantic Ocean, was well under way, South African construction company Basil Read project director Jimmy Johnston said Friday.
The JSE-listed group was awarded the R2.7-billion contract by the British government to design, build and operate the airport. After construction in, 2015, the operations phase of the airport would continue in partnership with South Africa-based Lanseria Airport for a further ten years at an estimated contract value of R450-million.
Construction started in May, but Johnston explained that it had only been establishment work to prepare for official construction to get under way. “Basil Read is now in the final stages of completing the mobilisation phase of the project, and the works will shortly be entering the full and intensive construction phase.”
Johnston told Engineering News Online that the company started with the construction of the 14 km haul road to the site about two months ago, which runs from Rupert’s Bay, up the mountain to the airport site. The final blasting to gain access to the airport was to take place on Friday.
Johnston said the construction of the airport formed part of the British government’s drive to develop its second-oldest overseas territory’s economy to be self-sufficient.
“Currently it takes about five days to travel by boat from Cape Town to the island, then you are there for seven days and travel back for five days. This is costly and time consuming.
“Even if the new airport just brings in 20 000 people a year, the multiplier effect of creating jobs will be quite high. It will change the face of the island and hopefully there, a strong economic viability will develop,” he indicated.
With a population of just over 4 000, St Helena’s only lifeline to the outside world has been the RMS St Helena – one of only two ocean-going vessels still in the world to carry the title of Royal Mail Ship., The ship was due to retire by about 2015.
Basil Read currently employed about 250 people at the project, mostly consisting of St Helena residents.
The scope of upcoming work entailed about 8-million m³ of rock fill embankment, divided by a 750-m-long reinforced concrete drain and a 1 950-m-long quality concrete runway with a taxiway and apron to cater for aircraft up to the size of an Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-800.
Further infrastructure included an airport terminal building of 3 500 m² with support infrastructure, air traffic control and safety, bulk-fuel storage installation for six-million litres of diesel and aviation fuel.
Basil Read first successfully docked its craft NP Glory 4, named the ’Basil Read Ship‘, with 700 t of heavy equipment and fuel in July. It was the first cargo ship of any size to dock at the Port of Rupert’s Bay.
The next shipment of heavy construction equipment was expected to arrive in August from Walvis Bay.
When the 48-month-long construction project reached completion in 2015, the St Helena government was looking to start flights between the island and Cape Town and Johannesburg. It is also understood that flights to the closest neighbour, Ascension Island, were also under consideration.
The government is also reportedly looking at starting its own St Helena airline with the call for tenders expected in the next few months.
The island is located about 1 900 km from Africa and 3 000 km from Cape Town, with its nearest neighbour Ascension Island over 1 000 km away.