1973-1990 – sea voyages in doubt

St Helena Airport Timeline:

1973

March-April: investigations into air access were renewed when it became clear that the Union Castle shipping line was in trouble, bringing a likely end to calls by ships on the weekly passenger service between Cape Town and Southampton (UK).

A team led by R J Wainwright (no relation to the later air access co-ordinator of the same name), began a new study on the island.

It was calculated that aircraft would carry 54 passengers a week in and out of St Helena in the first year, rising to 138 by year five; with 1,000 tourists per year, staying a week on average. Flights were anticipated via Ascension, Luanda, Abidjan or Cape Town, using Boeing 727s and 737s.

Five sites were investigated for the 7,000-foot runway, mainly on Deadwood Plain and out towards Horse Point.

Mr Wainwright advised that two sites had potential, at “very considerable cost”, but that bad weather would frequently disrupt flights. He recommended that a weather station should be established.

November: the last Union Castle ship called at St Helena, ending three decades of weekly calls by vessels travelling between Cape Town and Southampton (UK). and steps were taken to re-evaluate the possibility of air access.

The UK’s Met Office commissioned a station at Bottom Woods to monitor the upper atmosphere. Data quickly showed that high ground would be unsuitable for regular aircraft landing and take-off.

New airfield sites at Horse Pasture and Prosperous Bay Plain, briefly examined by Wainwright, were subsequently reconsidered, but both were deemed to need too much earth-moving.

Late 1970s

The Union Castle service was replaced by the “old” RMS St Helena.

1980s

A former colonial engineer, David Parsons, independently established St Helena Airways during and sent a team to the island to survey a previously-overlooked site for an airfield on Prosperous Bay Plain, intending to set up an air service.

1990

The new RMS St Helena was commissioned, behind schedule and 50% over budget.

NEXT PAGE:
1991-1997 – St Helena Airways – a second attempt
Return to Airport Timeline index

Leave a Reply