St Helena Airport Timeline
12 May: Clare Short resigned as International Development Secretary in protest at the Iraq war. She was replaced by Hilary Benn.
September: Mr Benn commissioned WS Atkins management consultants to evaluate the air access proposals.
Early 2004: DFID cancelled the procurement process.
May: WS Atkins was commissioned to investigate both air and sea access to St Helena to establish which would be most practical and affordable.
January: the Atkins report concluded that an airport with a 1,950-metre runway might be built by 2012 for £100 million (researchers had also investigated building a shorter runway for 19-seat executive aircraft). The project would involve moving around eight million cubic metres of rock.
The report’s opening description of the island said:
“It is home to over 14,000 people, known as ‘Saints’, only some 4000 of whom currently reside permanently on the island. The only scheduled form of access for passengers and cargo to St Helena is via the RMS St Helena. Travel to and from the island is costly in both time and expense. The economy is small, declining and heavily reliant on UK aid.
“The island’s rich history and glorious land and seascapes make it a potential tourist destination. Previous studies have identified the development of the tourist industry as the most likely means of stemming the decline…”
The report said the island’s steep approaches and rocky outcrops, and the elevation of the landing site at more than 1,000 feet above sea level, meant the airport could not operate without an instrument landing system. There might be turbulence on approach.
15 March: the BBC reported that St Helena had “been given approval to build its first airport”.
Project manager Sharon Wainwright said: “Everyone here is still walking on air. The Saints… have been waiting over 40 years and it’s finally been announced and I think everyone is rather shocked.”
It was expected the 2,250-metre runway would be open by 2010.
New tenders were sought based on WS Atkins designs, but a boom in global construction projects meant there was a poor response. A new approach was devised – but took time.