South African construction firm Basil Read, which is the largest privately owned company currently operating on St Helena Island, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, currently employs about 350 people in the construction of the R3.5-billion St Helena International Airport project.
The bulk of the workers are St Helena residents.
The first phase of the project, which is being funded by the British government through its Department for International Development, is well under way, despite the logistics challenges posed by the geographical location, says Basil Read project manager Jimmy Johnston.
“We had to develop a new supply chain from the African mainland, which entailed the following: chartering a specialised vessel, constructing berthing and unloading facilities, setting up fuel storage, constructing temporary accommodation for the workforce and setting up communication links, as well as securing and transporting plant equipment and personnel,” he says.
adds that this also included the construction of the 14 km haul road from Rupert’s Bay up the mountain to the airport site.
Basil Read has been contracted to design and build the airport, as well as operate it for ten years after its completion.
Johnston says there is sufficient fuel supply and construction machinery on the island for the works, which started in December 2011.
“The scope of construction for the first phase includes a 1 850 m high-quality concrete runway, with a taxiway and an apron to cater for aircraft up to the size of an Airbus A319, a Boeing 737-700 or a Lockheed L100, with possible upgrades being considered,” he says.
Construction also includes an eight- million-cubic-metre rockfill embankment through which a 750-m-long reinforced concrete culvert will run, a 3 500 m2 airport terminal building and support infrastructure, air traffic control and safety infrastructure, and bulk fuel installation for six-million litres of diesel and aviation fuel, as well as all related logistics infrastructure.
The first phase of the project will be completed in February 2016.
Johnston notes that, before construction is completed, the airport will have to be certified.
“After construction, the second phase, or operations phase, of the airport contract will start in partnership with Lanseria Airport for a period of ten years at an estimated contract value of R450-million.”
Johnston says one of the main drivers of the British government’s decision to build the St Helena airport is to make the island more self-sustainable by promoting tourism and making the economy self- sustainable.
Tourists are expected to grow from fewer than 1 000 visitors a year currently to more than 29 000 visitors a year once the airport is operational.
“The British government currently subsidises a ship, the RMS St Helena, to transport goods to and from the island. The ship takes five days to travel from Cape Town to St Helena,” he says.
Basil Read was presented with the Project of the Year award by construction magazine Construction World for the St Helena International Airport project.
“Among the factors taken into account by the judges were the island’s remoteness and limited skills availability and infrastructure capacity to complete a con- struction project of this magnitude,” says Basil Read CEO Mark Heyns.
He adds that the company carried out the first major blasting operation on Prosperous Bay Plain in November when more than 70 000 m3 of material was blasted as the start of the total eight- million cubic meters required to be moved during the project.
Johnston notes that the airport will completely change St Helena residents’ way of life.
“Things will definitely be different on the island; however, I hope that this does not change the island’s unique culture too much. We feel that the airport will bring more business to the island, which will open doors for entrepreneurial oppor- tunities,” he says.