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Test flights ‘blackout’ puts rumour forum into tailspin

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Efforts to meet the highest possible safety standards at St Helena Airport may have “come to bite” the construction team, a post on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network has suggested.

“All I can assume is that the engineers planning the airport played it safe and threw in every possible navaid that might be useful,” says a forum member who uses the name Broken Biscuit.

“After all, the navaids were probably quite a small percentage of the £250m of UK taxpayers’ money that went to build it.”

The UK-based writer, picking up on silence about the outcome of a second round of test flights to the airport, goes on to acknowledge the problems posed by the airport’s location.

“Presumably they didn’t want to limit operations in the event of GPS problems – it is in the tropics after all with the higher likelihood of ionospheric effects.

“And they’re starting 1,000 feet closer to the cloudbase with its cliff-top location. Add in the fact that it’s a shortish runway, quite a crosswind most of the year and probably severe turbulence as you approach the cliffs, pilots will need all the help they can to land safely.

“Oh, and I forgot the high terrain all around – you’ll want to remember to turn away from that smartish in the event of a go around!”

The same writer notes that the VHF radio gear [DVOR] and various antennae had to be moved after the first calibration flights in October 2015.

“They no longer illuminate the sea – I suspect that there was severe cancellation of the signals at some distance/height due to reflection off the ocean.

“Another possibility is that the DVOR was located just metres away from Bradley’s Camp – all metal buildings – used for the construction crew but also going to be converted into long term tourist accommodation.

“So the choice of some navaids which may be unnecessary has come to bite them.”

A writer using the name TCAS FAN questions a media quote about “the unknown nature of building an airport on the island’s uneven terrain,” saying surveys should have removed such doubts.

But another forum member, Ddraig Goch, suggests the terrain may actually be causing problems with “nav and landing aids, which because of where St Helena is and the position of the runway require more sophisticated equipment than your bog standard airport.

“I have been asking for the results of the second calibration flights without success for ages. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence with much that happens there.”

In another post, Broken Biscuits says: “I take the deathly silence from the St Helena Government and their contractors Basil Read over the second round of calibration flights to mean the navaids still don’t come up to spec, despite having been relocated.

“You would think that, if the calibrators had found all reasonably good that some sort of positive statement would have been made. Instead they talked about it all having to be analysed in London very carefully…

“There might be big discussions going on about who is liable for the costs of the delayed opening, which may explain the public silence.”

Moving equipment could be the result of “a pretty basic failure of design”, says Broken Biscuit. “We can only speculate given the news blackout from the project team and government.

“There’s now about 90 odd days before the opening ceremony – I wonder if there’ll be a plane on the apron to add some authenticity to the celebrations?”

Read the PPRuNe forum posts on St Helena Airport


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