”The Falkland Islands airport emerges from rock and peat-bog” said The Times in its 11 May edition, the day before the official opening of Mount Pleasant Airport in 1985, thirty years ago last week.
Two years before that UK Defense Minister of the time Michael Heseltine announced in the House of Commons on June 27 that the decision had been taken to construct the airport at Mount Pleasant instead of Stanley, because even allowing for the cost of the road between the airport and Stanley it would be less expensive.
The original decision to build an airport in the Falklands had been made in June 1982 in the aftermath of the Falklands war. The contract was for works to the value of £190 million, not including the cost of the road which comprised a separate MoD contract for communications and navigational aids, making a total of £215 million.
Details of the new British Government Defense budget released on 6 July 1983, announced an allowance of £624 million for the defense of the Falklands and territories.
This was in addition to the price of the new airport and represented four per cent of Britain’s projected total defense budget.
Penguin News reported in March 1984 that work by PSA Ltd (design and planning) and LMA Ltd (the building) was progressing well and there was confidence that a basic runway would be operational by April 1985.
In November 1984 Penguin News reporter Rob McBride travelled to MPA and was told by PSA’s Regional Director that progress was good considering the only materials available to them locally was stone and water; everything else had to be shipped
from the UK.
By this stage a quarter of a million tons of supplies had been hauled across the decks of the Merchant Providence berthed at East Cove and the new jetty head.
The speed at which the runway and complex grew was partly due to a shift system that kept LMA workers busy around the clock.
An ordinary laborer could expect to take home a tax-free £10,000 in his pay packet at the end of a year with £155 bonus on top of that.
On May 12 HRH Prince Andrew who was already in the Islands as a Royal Naval Officer performed the opening ceremony unveiling a commemorative plaque in the main hangar and received a relief map of the Islands crafted in silver.
In his speech the Prince described the 2,590 meter runway and hangar as, “imaginative and meticulous planned with the heroic efforts of dedication of a British workforce.”
The sense of security that the Mount Pleasant complex and runway offered then to the people of the Falklands has not diminished today, in its valuable link with the UK and its representation of a huge commitment from the British Government.
Added to that the complex and its occupants contribute in various ways to the economy of the Falkland Islands, along with the complex offering much appreciated leisure opportunities including access to the cinema and bowling alley. (Penguin News).-