St Helena Online

Tag: Basil Read

All’s well for airport opening says Castle as silence on test flights stirs doubts in UK media

The target opening date for St Helena’s airport remains 21 May 2016, despite “challenges” meeting safety demands, officials in The Castle have insisted.

St Helena Government also said there was “nothing new” in a comment about problems with the island’s terrain, quoted in UK media reports.

The UK’s Independent newspaper quoted project director Janet Lawrence saying: “Due to the unknown nature of building an airport on the island’s uneven terrain, changes in design had to be made to facilitate that.”

One pilots’ forum member said: “Would Ms Lawrence now cease the ‘spin’ and tell everyone just exactly what the nature of the problem is?

“Something of an apparently fundamental nature that would delay opening the airport at this late stage could be seen as the sign of a enormous c**k up.”

The story blew up within days of a formal deadline for Basil Read to complete the construction of the airport – 26 February 2016.

The official opening was put back to St Helena’s Day in May after the first test flight to Prosperous Bay Plain found significant problems with navigation and landing aids.

No announcement has ever been made about extending the hand-over date in Basil Read’s contract.

The first calibration flights resulted in high-tech VHF radio equipment and antennae having to be moved.

Two months have now passed without news of success from a second round of flights to test the relocated landing aids.

The silence prompted questions from members of the Professional Pilots Rumour Network (PPRuNe). Then the Independent newspaper ran its story under the headline, St Helena Airport Open, But Where’s The Planes?

A re-hash of the article then appeared on the Mail Online, the biggest English language news website in the world, visited by more than 14 million browsers in January 2016.

Chris Pickard, the island’s new tourism director, was upbeat about the impact of the media coverage, saying such stories attract the attention of potential tourists (see separate article).

The reports picked up on an open letter from Richard Brown of Atlantic Star airline, saying the “complexity” of remaining work on the airport meant it could not start selling tickets for its first charter flight from the UK to St Helena.

Its first flight had already been put back from Easter to the UK summer.

There has been no word of a start date for weekly flights from Johannesburg by the South African airline Comair.

The question now is how difficult it will be to fix any remaining problems that have been identified – and who will do the work, and who is liable to pay for it.

Janet Lawrence’s comment about uneven terrain has been seen as a suggestion that the problems may involve fencing or equipment close to the steep and fragile cliffs around the airport.

But a statement from The Castle in Jamestown said otherwise:

“The UK Independent report references a conversation with Airport Director Janet Lawrence about the challenges of constructing an airport in such an isolated location and on such difficult terrain.  She used examples such as the Open Channel [diverting water from the filled-in Dry Gut] and Rupert’s Wharf to illustrate the continual design process under this project.

“There is nothing new here, including about terrain, turbulence or the approach.

“Even after all these challenges, we are still aiming for 21 May 2016 for the official opening of St Helena Airport.

“Janet also reported on the Tony Leo show on 13 January that the calibration flights had done ‘just what it says on the box’.”

The statement said that project firm Basil Read had since been preparing paperwork required for the airport to be certified and cleared for commercial flights by the ASSI (Air Safety Support International).

The ASSI says it can take 40 working days to returned detailed findings on tests, “and we are still well within this timeframe,” said the government statement.

“The aviation industry is highly regulated and for obvious reasons. By the time of certification, there will have been hundreds of hours of flight simulations proving that flights into and out of St Helena Airport can be undertaken safely.

“An enormous amount has been achieved. Developing a world class facility for St Helena is a huge and complex project.  We’re now on the home straight and all parties are working flat out to achieve certification and the opening of the airport for commercial flights at the earliest possible opportunity.”

One member of the pilots forum wrote: “If the airport doesn’t open perhaps it could be used as a penal colony for all the civil servants involved in the scheme, to be sent there to break up the concrete etc by hand.”

Blast masters: Alan and co fire the last explosion on aircraft site

The final explosion on the St Helena airport project
Last blast: the final explosion on the St Helena airport project

The dust has settled on three years of explosions on St Helena’s airport construction site: the final rock blast of the entire project took place on Prosperous Bay Plain at 5.20pm on Friday 20 March 2015.

It achieved its objective, with 975kg of explosives yielding about 3,700 tonnes of rock near the site of the navigational directional beacon that will help guide aircraft towards the runway. The slopes of the hillside will be safer as a result.

explosion sequence by basil readClick here to see a sequence of explosion pictures

Blasting supervisor Alan Hudson and his team have been praised for the part they have played in moving more than 10million cubic metres of rock since work began.

Most of it was ferried, truckload by truckload, into Dry Gut to create a level area long enough for the runway. Explosives were also used to clear the route of the access road up from Rupert’s Bay.

A total of 383 controlled explosions have taken place for the airport project. The number of misfires and safety incidents was: none.

PICTURES: Explosion! 
VIDEO: 5,000 tonnes of explosives and fuel by the shipload: why St Helena’s airport builders are careful with matches

Welcome to St Helena Airport…

Airport newsletter number 51: click the link at the bottom of the story to read it
Airport newsletter number 51: click the link at the bottom of the story to read it

St Helena’s airport will officially be known as… St Helena Airport.

So says the 51st Airport Update, reporting the decision by executive councillors. “The name is strongly supported by the aviation industry and has instant recognition for passengers,” it says.

The newsletter also reports on open days at the end of September, at which about 1,600 people – a third of the island population – saw the completed work to fill in Dry Gut and create an extra 400 metres of level ground for the runway.

The structure of the building that will house services such as the air traffic control has also been completed.

And the update tells of Craig Yon’s success in earning a blasting qualification that gives him a key role in setting explosives. An examiner came from Namibia to assess him.

Click to read: Airport Update 51 (.pdf file).

  • There was talk of St Helena’s first and only airport being called St Helena International. But the last word of that name would have been rather superfluous. If it wasn’t not going to be an international airport, then where would the aeroplanes fly to – Francis Plain?

Creativity takes flight as airport hits half-way mark


The part-filled Dry Gut, as seen by photographer Barbara George
The part-filled Dry Gut, as seen by photographer Barbara George

Driving a digger back and forth, filling an entire valley with rubble to carry the runway for St Helena’s airport, may not seem the most artistic of jobs.

But you can’t keep the St Helenian creative spirit down, it seems.

Two open days at the airport site have been held on successive weekends in November 2013 to mark a major milestone in the project: reaching the half-way mark in filling Dry Gut.

That means roughly 3,889,623 cubic metres of rock – or 247,466 truckloads.

50 per cent 300On the first open day, the figure “50%” was inscribed into the surface of the fill with a 20-tonne roller.

But for workers on such an ambitious project, that clearly wasn’t enough. As Saint FM reported on 24 November 2013:

“The Dry Gut crew wanted something different and more dramatic, and so with a piece of imagination, settled on moulding the shape of a passenger jet out of the rubble – no mean feat in the short time available, what with getting the dimensions into perspective.”

The challenge is to come up with something even more ambitious for September 2014, when the last truckload of rubble is due to be tipped into place in the gut.

In the meantime, work on the airport terminal buildings has now begun, as witnessed by visitors to the opens days; and consultation has ended on plans for a new permanent wharf at Rupert’s Bay.

St Helena Online does not have a picture of the rubble aeroplane, but is happy to share Barbara George’s image of the 50% sign, at the top of this story.

Click on any thumbnail below to see Barbara’s open day pictures.




Two years into airport contract, the Gut is filling nicely

This used to be a valley: infilling of Dry Gut continues. Picture courtesy of Basil Read
This used to be a valley: infilling of Dry Gut continues. Picture courtesy of Basil Read

Anywhere else in the world, to speak of filling a gut would be considered less than polite. Not on St Helena.

It’ll be an international cause for celebration when the eight millionth tonne of rock is tipped into the last dimple of Dry Gut, ready to carry the island’s first airport runway across what was once a deep ravine.

Two years on from the announcement of agreement for Basil Read to build the island’s first airport, on 3 November 2011, the construction team is doggedly getting there, one truckload at a time.

To mark the second anniversary of the signing of the contract, St Helena Online has published an Airport Timeline, charting the 68-year struggle to secure funding and political approval for the project. Start reading it here.

Basil Read has also released three pictures of work in progress on Prosperous Bay Plain. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger versions.

Deon de Jager, the company’s island-based director, noted that all critical milestones to date had been met within a couple of days of the planned dates. The team should reflect on its work with pride, he said.

The filling of Dry Gut is expected to reach the half-way mark in mid November 2013. As the fill has to cover an ever-widening area, so the height reached creeps ever more slowly upwards.

In the meantime, work continues on building the terminal buildings, as well as on the access road and a bulk fuel installation at Rupert’s Valley.

A public consultation is currently under way on new proposals for a permanent wharf in Rupert’s Bay.

But progress has also been made on an “ambitious reform programme” promised by St Helena Government as a condition of UK funding, said policy director Susan O’Bey.

New policies have been brought in for selling off government land and encouraging development, immigration and investment. The benefits system has been reviewed, the Basic Island Pension has been introduced, and a national minimum wage is shortly to be brought it.

St Helena Online has been advised that steps are also being taken to address the “injustice”, as campaigners call it, of Saints being denied pensions on St Helena for the years they worked on Ascension, helping to shore up the economy of their home island.

Housing executive Andy Crowe is understood to be seeking ways to bring down the cost of imported building materials, as part of a drive to build new housing on St Helena – including the first new social housing for many years.

AIRPORT TIMELINE: Click here to read the story of the airport, from the arrival of the first surveyors in 1943 to the historic signing of the construction contract in 2011. The project will be updated and pictures will be added as time allows.

READ MORE: Archive of airport stories on St Helena Online
SEE ALSO: St Helena Airport project website

VIDEO: 5,000 tonnes of explosives and fuel by the shipload: why St Helena’s airport builders are careful with matches

video explosion 2013 04 640About 22 million litres of fuel and 5,000 tonnes of explosives will have been shipped out to St Helena for the island’s airport project by the time it is finished.

The scale of the challenge is brought home in a ten-minute video commissioned by airport contractor Basil Read and voiced by director Jimmy Johnston.

Click the pic to see the video
Click the pic to see the video

Even the supply ship itself, the NP Glory 4, is included on the list of equipment that has been pulled together for the job.

The vessel was from Thailand, its crane came from China, and the goods it carries come from all round the world, all gathered together in a bonded warehouse in Namibia.

It’s the biggest investment on the island in its history and the largest contract funded by the UK’s Department for International Development – costing £250 million.

According to the video, the project will have involved:

  • building a landing jetty and a 14-kilometre haul road
  • shipping out 120 items of heavy machinery
  • importing 27,000 tonnes of cement
  • installing tanks for 6 million litres of fuel
  • blasting and drilling 8 million cubic metres of rock…
  • … to raise the floor of a valley by 100 metres
  • building accommodation for 100 workers
  • designing and constructing a terminal building, lighting and navigation aids
  • procuring all the airport operating equipment, such as stairs and fire engines
Basil Read will operate the airport once complete
Basil Read will operate the airport once complete

By mid-2013 the South African contractor had 360 workers on the island – including 240 Saints – and another 70 managers and support staff in the UK and South Africa.

It expects to have about 450 people on the island at the peak of construction work.

The project has already made island history, as Jimmy Johnson points out: “On the 11 July 2012, our ship was first to voluntarily touch land on St Helena.

“There’s been a few others that didn’t do it voluntarily and they’re scattered around the island.”

He adds: “Basil Read are extremely proud to be involved in this project. It is very prestigious, it’s unique, and it’s going to change the lives of the Saints.”


puff flight 195 shAfter the nerves, praise all round for successful docking
ANIMATION: View from cockpit as first plane lands
Locking out MP ‘helped secure airport deal’


St Helena airport project

Basil Read offers water truck – but it’s too big for roads

A giant water carrier from St Helena’s airport site has been put on standby to help if the island’s domestic supply has to be switched off, as drought continues.

But the vehicle is legally too big for the narrow and winding roads.

Construction firm Basil Read has offered the loan one of its two bowsers, which can each carry 20 cubic metres of water – roughly five percent of the daily consumption in the affected communities around Half Tree Hollow.

Water engineer Martin Squibbs said: “It exceeds the weight limit on the roads so it needs special permission to operate.

“We have to consider the roads and the state of the roads. We have to consider the route that we might take. We have to consider where we might get the water from, how many loads we can safely deliver in a day. We are doing all that.”

Chief of Police Peter Coll added: “There are some logistical problems – it could not be used on Ladder Hill. It is just too big bulky and dangerous to drive it up Ladder Hill. It is still there as an option.”

He said thought had to be given to the number of times it could make the trip to the affected areas, and how long it would take to fill and empty.

It might not be enough to meet the daily demand for water in the affected areas – Half Tree Hollow, Cowpath, Ladder Hill, Red Hill, Sapper Way, New Ground, Clay Gut, Pounceys, Kunjie Field, Scotland, Plantation, Cleughs Plain, Rosemary Plain, Francis Plain, Crack Plain and Guinea Grass.

But the emergency committee set up to plan for a potential mains shut-down has tracked down a number of tanks that could be loaded on to vehicles to transport water from parts of the island that have more water.

At Wednesday’s news conference on the crisis, Martin said: “Two days ago we were able to secure four tanks across the Red Hill area. Now we are talking something like 30 tanks.

“So we have found tanks that we didn’t know existed. You can say what you like about that and that’s fine, but in future we will have a record of that. This effort will not be wasted. The information will be stored.”

But he told one story that suggested lessons had not been learned after past water shortages.

He said: “When I first came to the island we had a bowser on a truck standing by and waiting to go.

“That bowser was taken out of service because it was a 1950s Bedford truck for altogether the right reasons, I’m sure but it left us with a shortage of tankerage to move water.

“So now we have got to think again. We have got some tanks we can put on vehicles, we can ask Basil Read to help us out – but they have got a job to do as well and they are working within time constraints.”

Intrepid South Africans playing key role in St Helena airport adventure

The first plane to officially land at St Helena’s new airport – the first airport in the island’s more than 500 years of human habitation – is scheduled to do so in February 2016.

Saints Take To Flight
Saints Take To Flight

Building an Airport by Ship

Jimmy Johnston says the biggest challenge in building St Helena Airport has been creating and maintaining an efficient logistics chain.

There are no capital equipment dealers on St Helena, no cement plants and no brick factories. Almost everything, excluding rock, water and a large portion of the workforce necessary to construct the airport, has to be brought to the island.

To make this happen, Basil Read chartered a 2 500 t ocean-going vessel for a period of three years. However, there was no direct landing infrastructure on the island, and limited mooring facilities at the seafront of the capital, Jamestown.

Read More: Engineering News

Aconex reports that Basil Read will Use Aconex for Saint Helena Airport Project

Project Information Management System Supports Collaboration for Historic Development

Saint Helena Airport Terminal Rendering
Saint Helena Airport Terminal Rendering

JAMESTOWN, SAINT HELENA — (Marketwired) — 04/09/13 — Aconex, provider of the world’s most widely used online project collaboration solutions for the infrastructure, construction, power, mining, and oil and gas industries, today announced that Basil Read (Pty) Ltd, a leading global construction and engineering firm based in South Africa, is using the Aconex Online Collaboration Platform for the design and building of the Saint Helena Airport. Saint Helena, a British overseas territory, is one of the remotest islands in the world, located in the south Atlantic Ocean, more than 1,900 kilometers from the coast of Africa. This project will provide the first access to the island by air.

Read More: On Bloomberg:

See Also: On Aconex:

Rough seas force airport ship to sit at anchor

Words and pictures by Bruce Salt

St Helena’s airport supply ship, the NP Glory 4, has had to retreat from her mooring in Ruperts Bay after sea conditions deteriorated on Friday 1 March 2013.

Today (Monday), the ship remained at anchor as the rough sea continued.

NP Glory 4 at anchor
NP Glory 4 at anchor

Even though the 78-metre-long vessel was moored to the shore in Ruperts soon after daybreak on Friday, it was advised that the NP Glory 4 should retreat to seaward by 13:00hrs as it was feared the sea would get rougher than it already was.

With noon just past, the starboard bow mooring line “popped”, indicating that it was time to abort to an anchorage off Mundens Point and await calmer weather.

Containers and machinery remained aboard the roll-on, roll-off ship.

On all of the vessel’s previous visits the sea has been flat calm. This had to happen soon or later.

The RMS St Helena arrived around 09:40 on Monday 4 March and passenger disembarkation and cargo removal was soon under way.

The local coxswains are particularly skilled at operating in rough conditions.

After the nerves, praise all round for successful docking
Basil Read ship: the pictures that made Johnny homesick

GALLERY: The wreck of the Queequeg