The Argentina press announced on Sunday the construction of an airport in the middle of the Atlantic Island of St Helena, a British Overseas Territory and which would become a crucial hopping point for the Falklands/UK air bridge.
Besides being famous as the place chosen by the British to imprison the defeated French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, the Overseas Territory of St Helena has an only (monthly) sea link with Cape Town in South Africa and the idea of building an airport dates back to the sixties and was later resuscitated in the nineties.
After some frustrations and delays under the UK Labour government, the current coalition of PM David Cameron, last November awarded the contract to South Africa’s Basil Read (Pty) Ltd in the amount of £201.5 million for the design and construction of the airport, an additional up to £10 million in shared risk contingency, and £35.1 million for ten years of operation. Construction is scheduled to begin next May.
The Governor of St. Helena, Mark Capes described the operation at the time as “momentous news for St Helena. It will give us the best chance we will ever have of reversing the economic decline of the last 50 years”.
St Helena with a population of 4.000 has very close links with the Falklands where more than 400 St Helenians settled originally arriving as contract workers given the shortage of manpower in the booming economy of the South Atlantic Islands claimed by Argentina. Contrary to the self sufficient Falklands, St Helena depends from the British Treasury.
The South African contractor CEO Marius Heyns told ‘Engineering News Online’ that the award followed from the reopening of a bidding process, which had previously been shelved.
Italian contractor Impregilo was awarded the initial contract (2010) in a process started in 2006, but the British government pulled back in light of recent global economic turmoil. But in January 2011 fresh designs, build, operate and transfer bids were sought from both Impregilo and Basil Read, but only the South African group making a bid.
The UK government’s Department for International Development will fund the project, which will involve a small airport building, a 1.8-km runway, connect roads, a small harbour terminal, ancillary works, as well as the installation of air-traffic control systems.
The client would be the St Helena government, which sees the airport as key to improving logistics and supporting economic development.
Heyns anticipated that construction could begin in May 2012. At peak construction, some 300 people will be employed on the project. Most of the expertise would be derived from South Africa, but Basil Read has indicated that it will employ as many locals as possible in the building and the operation of the facility.
Construction will take place over a 48-month period, while operation of the airport will continue for ten years at a contract value of about £35.1 million.
St Helena is not only an exotic destination, (2.000 kilometres to the nearest landmass) but could become a peregrination point for the French since Napoleon spent his last years in the island as a prisoner of the British and was buried there until 1840.when his remains were repatriated to Paris.
Tourist visitors alone are expected to leap from fewer than 1,000 a year to more than 29,000 after the airport is built. The island is about 6,100 kilometres and seven hours and 40 minutes flight time- from the Falklands.