THE AGE OF AIR TRAVEL TO BEGIN | Darrin Henry
“Wow! This, is, beautiful!” I’m completely awestruck having just stepped onto the gleaming concourse inside the brand new St Helena Airport terminal. I’m conscious my mouth is literally hanging open as my eyes dart left and right, but I can’t help it – a building like this exists on St Helena. Amazing!
The transformation from the bare concrete shell I was last in 18 months ago, to this, is remarkable.In fact, the transformation from the volcanic wasteland we all knew four years ago, to this, is miraculous.
A Little Piece Of St Helena Stone
My tour guides allow me a minute to recompose before we slowly begin to make our way through the terminal. Basil Read’s Island Director, Deon De Jager and the company’s HR Manager, Charles Schwarz, are leading the way. Both have lived and breathed this project for the last four years, achieving what many said was impossible and doing it on time and on budget.
The building is obviously new, but the design instantly feels personal and welcoming. The wood panelling inside and dry stone exterior walls give it an authentic island feel. The colour scheme is a blend of white and cream, offset against accents of light wood panelling. Dark window and door frames and seating benches define the lines.
The dry stone cladding is a great story. Deon tells me “the stone has come from different quarries across the island, as far away as Horse Pasture, as close as Horse Point over the hill and also from right here on Prosperous Bay Plain.” It’s a lovely touch, different parts of St Helena making up the airport.
St Helena Immigration and HM Customs
We begin in the Immigration Hall. New arrivals will walk across from the airplane and in through these doors. ‘St Helena Immigration’ signage hangs over four desks where incoming passports will be checked. As arrivals queue, visible to the right through a transparent partition is Baggage Reclaim; suitcases should pop in through a hole in the wall onto the chrome roller bed to await retrieval by their owners.
The entire Immigration Hall and Baggage Reclaim area is flooded with natural light, pouring in from the floor to ceiling windows on two sides.
Afterwards it’s out of Baggage Reclaim and into the obligatory HM Customs gauntlet.
And then you emerge as a new, hopefully legal, arrival onto the concourse. This is will be the island’s new meeting place, where families will shed joyful reunion tears, where friendships will reconnect with smiles and a warm embrace and where tourists will begin their St Helena adventure searching for a taxi. It’s going to be exciting to see for the first time.
The New St Helena Airport Viewing Deck
Next we head up to the first floor in the lift. Up here is the public cafe/restaurant which will seat perhaps 50 or 60 people. It’s all glass up here, the inescapable runway panoramic and Prosperous Bay Plain stretching left to right. Doors lead out onto the open air viewing deck which looks down onto where the airplane(s) will be parked. This area is going to be very popular!
Charles tells me a children’s play area is going to be added. Shadows from the trellis overhead, the gorgeous blue sky and landscape framed in the large glass panels make for a stunning setting.
On The St Helena Airport Concourse
Back down to the concourse we go and into the public toilets which are virtually complete. Mirrors are still to be fitted but everything else is in place including sink taps triggered by motion sensors – another first for St Helena.
Other facilities on the concourse include a tourist and airport information kiosk, banking and currency exchange, a gift shop and a lost baggage desk.
The terminal makes maximum use of natural light; floor to ceiling windows that illuminate the interior but also visually connects those inside to the spectacular volcanic landscape outside.
Large, circular down-lighters in the ceiling are actually sunlight port holes, funnelling even more natural brightness into the building.
Unseen solar panels heat water and double glazing helps maintain internal air temperature. The terminal is cooled by a controlled combination of air-conditioning and natural air flow.
Final Call For Departures
We turn our attention to the section of the airport for departing passengers.
Entering the terminal from the car park they will turn right towards three baggage check in desks. Suitcases will be weighed, tagged and dispatched via a roller bed through a hole in the wall to the cargo handling area. In there hold luggage will be scanned before being loaded onto the aircraft.
Once hold baggage is submitted, passengers go to the left to pass through security and passport control. In here we find the new airport staff undergoing training; personal effects placed in the standard airport plastic trays are fed through the x-ray scanner. Some of the staff play the part of passengers, being subjected to body scans and bag searches. Everyone’s taking the training quite seriously. It will all be real soon enough.
Successfully through these final checks, passengers will then find themselves in the departure lounge looking out onto the aircraft apron. There is a lot of activity in here; workers are finalising the toilet block so we are careful of the cables and tools. There’s a small cafe and duty free shop which are just empty shelves for now. At the far end of the departure lounge is the business lounge; a smaller space for VIPs. Again, a lot of work is underway in here with carpets being fitted, so we stay clear.
A Beautiful St Helena Day
The tingle of excitement running through me goes up a notch as I realise very soon the first passengers will sit in this lounge, watching a Boeing 737 taxi up to the window. What an emotional experience it will be for them; for everyone. St Helena’s 500 year travel culture is going to change overnight.
Outside on the aircraft apron into the blazing midday sun I slide on my sunglasses; St Helena is at its most dazzling. The terminal lies low, sleek and stylish; the two-storey viewing platform, flanked by the departure lounge on the left and arrivals hall on the right. Workmen in the distinctive Basil Read blue overalls and yellow, high-vis vests are applying final touches to the exterior trim.
It’s been a little over six months since I was out here last when the first airplane to ever land on St Helena made history; it was the first calibration flight for the airport.
The Combined Building and Control Tower
We walk across to the Combined Building, a chunky structure topped by the unmistakable tub-like control tower. Spidery antennae stalks circle the tower roof; dry stone cladding cloaks the lower walls. Unlike the terminal which will only be open on flight days, the Combined Building will be manned throughout the week. The airport support staff are based here – fire and rescue, airport manager, administration, aircraft support, flight control, weather data etc.
The large belly of the Combined Building is garage to three huge, shiny, yellow fire engines. Little kids are going to love a school visit here! Large reflective letters spell, ‘St Helena Airport’ on each of the Mercedes model fire trucks – not too shabby! The airport even has its own ambulance. The fire fighting team are huddled nearby, training. They also look quite serious.
Air Traffic Control St Helena
Up in the control tower we meet Nolwazi and Bhavna, two experienced South African air traffic controllers who have just arrived this morning on the RMS St Helena. The ladies have been training on a simulator over the past three weeks to prepare for St Helena’s airport.
The reason they’re here? A small airplane with Air Safety Support International (ASSI) regulators is due in about two weeks time. They will be here for seven days conducting test flights and a final on-site audit of the airport. If all goes well as is expected, international certification should then follow. The airport will then be authorised to start scheduling commercial flights ahead of the official opening date of 21 May, 2016.
Moving through the Combined Building we pop in to see the Airport Manager, Nigel Spackman, who has been in post for the last eight months. Nigel outlines the detailed task he has ensuring the crucial procedures and guidelines for operating the airport are in place in order for final certification to be achieved.
Ready For Opening Night
Like everyone else I’ve met on this visit, Nigel is busy but calm and relaxed. There’s a quiet confidence in the air – with everyone – a sense of ‘final rehearsals done, opening night imminent.’ Everyone has learned their lines and now we just need an airplane! It’s exciting.
If there’s a problem I reckon it’s going to be the volume of people on flight days. Elsewhere when Sharon and I have flown we take public transport to and from the airport and say our goodbyes leaving the house where we are staying. However, Saints on island traditionally mobilise the family to say goodbye or greet new arrivals. Recently I was one of 10 seeing a single family member off at the wharf in Jamestown. Even reduced, these numbers could still be problematic at the airport. But, there we go; there will undoubtedly be a few operational kinks to iron out as the age of air travel begins on St Helena.
Deon De Jager
The visit is over; we retrace our steps back through the terminal while discussing the project.
Even now the man who effectively built the airport remains as modest as ever about what he and his team have accomplished. A little grandstanding could be easily forgiven, but as I’ve seen over the last four years that’s not Deon’s way.
“I walk through here every day and look around and it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come,” Deon tells me. “Sometimes when I look back it feels like it’s been a million years, but when you consider when it was we completed the haul road and got access to Prosperous it’s only taken three and a half years.”
That’s about as much as I’m going to get. But make no mistake; delivering this project really has been a phenomenal achievement.
HLE: St Helena Airport
The logistical coordination alone should be held up as a case study for construction industry experts. The earth-works statistics are mind-boggling.
As for the airport building I’ve just viewed, the architects got the balance spot on. This building is something everyone on St Helena can feel proud of; it’s already the island’s modern showpiece yet occupies a subtle profile on the Plain. It’s not gaudy; it doesn’t try too hard or fall down as a poor imitation.
I’ve been fortunate to see a few airports around the world. With that in mind, I think our airport on St Helena is quite special.
The only two THIngs to improve in my Opinion; there is no animal handling FACILITY so despite the plane being aBle to carry pets, the airport Is the barrier and Two, shame the glass in the viewing gallery Has bars through it and you cant see left or right To the end of the runway (unless youre about 6ft tall) because of walls either side. But except for that (CONSTRUCTIVe CRITICism is usually good) the airport is BEAUTIful And use of local materials is absolutely EXCELLEnt.
Thanks for the comment Nicole. Great points and constructive criticism always good.
Re the pet facilities, I suspect these might not be too difficult to add on to the airport site.
You’re right about the viewing platform though. It was a point I put forward at a consultation meeting at Kingshurst way back in December or January 2011/12 when one of the first Basil Read reps came to the island and was holding a consultation meeting laying out the proposed Terminal plans. I said to him you will not believe how interested the island people will be in coming to watch the flights land/take-off so please factor in a very good observation deck.
But as you say, it is still a beautiful airport. Everything we see while travelling through other countries only confirms that for us.
Thanks again Nicole 🙂
Indeed this new terminal appears quite ready! Will I ever save enough cash to fly to it?
Let’s hope so! Can’t wait for flights and prices to be confirmed 🙂
Hi, like what I have seen, this is like you said “amazing!! The Brits got this wrong wasting our taxes again! How can they got this wrong ?? With today’s technology, oooooh… Airport built for the military – the hurc will be at home landing there. Who was this Air port built for ? Sainthelena our military? Sorry to ask these questions.
Hopefully the airport was built for the people and not the military 🙂 Thanks for your comment. Cheers
I heard this was happening in 2005. So glad you have achieved it. Well done to all involved.
Well done indeed – Basil Read and all their team really did a brilliant job. Thanks for the comment, Gerry.
I cannot believe that it actually came to fruition and it certainly looks very impressive! My poor darling Terry would be SO pleased to see that it finally happened as he was very fond of StHelena and all the Saints that he met there as well as on the dear old RMS!…….
What a wonderful achievement after so long and I down here in Australia wish you all the very best and safe travels for everyone…………Thank you Sharon and Darrin for keeping me in the loop, I send my best to you both!
It was indeed on the RMS 10 years ago this year that we met you and Terry. After that first afternoon in the Main Lounge we felt we had known you both all our lives.
A true inspiration was Terry: “Luck is just preparation meeting opportunity.” Can never forget it.
Thanks for the comment, lovely to hear from you – anytime you fancy trying out our new airport you will always have a place to stay at Alarm Forest 🙂
A golden opportunity for st Helena to become an amazing destination,its all down to the community to make the most of this unique chance to stand out with its special charm.history and hospitality.Go for it!
Absolutely! So much potential ahead, exciting times especially for the younger generation. Thanks for the comment Wyn 🙂
You are both doing an excellent job and a brilliant service for the island providing information in an interesting , even exciting manner and promoting the island in such a positive manner. Well done and thanks.
Thanks Pam for such a lovely comment. It’s hard not to get so excited with everything that’s happening on the island at the moment, eh! Cheers 🙂
I was there in 2014. Construction was underway but it was a long way from completion.
Hi Gary, you may not remember but we met on St Helena during your visit in 2014. Chatting to you about your travel blogging was a major part of the inspiration for us starting What The Saints Did Next. We both continue to follow Everything-Everywhere and your amazing photography. Thanks for the comment, great to hear from you 🙂
What an excellent job Basil Reed and his company has done for St Helena, by building this fabulous airport, well done to you and all those who took part, I feel very proud, and I look forward to taking my first flight back to that beautiful Island in the sun. x
An excellent job, agreed. So many Saints are going to be experiencing this soon, it’s going to be quite strange for them arriving on the island this way for the first time! Thanks for the comment Kathy 🙂
“Excellent job” it most certainly is Kathy. Look forward to seeing you take that first flight too, hopefully the first of many! Thanks for the comment, Cheers 🙂
Reblogged this on scumezza.
Well, after thoroughly looking at these pictures I am truly astonished and amazed of such a successful project, thanks for these professional pictures, for us who haven’t seen it yet, I really have goosebumps and feel so proud. I am FINALLY excited. A job well done!
Excellent! Just think how you are going to feel when you see it and then the goosebumps when it’s your turn to fly!! Thanks for the lovely feedback Julie 🙂
A wonderful initiative and the hard work has certainly paid off! Well done!
Thanks for the comment Bronwyn. The hard work is clear for all to see 🙂
Three letter word .wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Haha, cheers Sandra, always appreciate your support 🙂
Wow! What a fantastic job. Congratulations Darren & Sharon for allowing us to see the end product from our living roo m you certainly did a good job and we now have our own Airport that we can be prouid of. Congratulations also to Dion and every body else including South Africans Tiwanese and our fellowSaints for for a fist class product. Who said we would never get an Airport? Weve got one and a top class one at that!
Hi Stedson, we know you’ve long been following the blog, great to have your comment and glad you’ve been able to enjoy the airport progress through the blog. Yes, congratulations are well deserved all round to those who brought this project to such a smart finish, “top class” indeed. Cheers 🙂
Congratulations to everyone involved, we have been following the progress since our visit to the Island over Christmas 2013. We look forward to flying back to see the completed masterpiece and the lovely Island and St Helenians! Best of luck with the opening! Best wishes from James, Christine and David Hagen from Johannesburg, SA.
Well it would be great to have you back visiting again, will be interesting to hear how you compare the two experiences of arrival – sea and air! Thanks for the comment, cheers 🙂
I think the airport is an absolute beauty and wish I were there working. The airport represents the St. Helenian people so well in appearance and attitude.. all the best
The designers will be happy to read that, Don. Thanks for your comment.
I would to visit St Helena one day. For now I would be happy with a post card.
Bloody Marvellous Job Well done !!!!
Haha, well said! Great comment. Cheers 🙂
A fantastic work! It looks very good.
True that! Cheers, thanks for the comment 🙂
Wow. This is stunning ! We were on the RMS together with Deon, Charles and the team from Basil Read when they first came to the Island at the end of 2011. On departing back to Cape Town, I can still recall Deon pointing to some barren looking Areas on the Island, outlining where the airport would be. And now it’s reality. Congratulations, I can’t wait to come back and see it for myself !
Great story Anna, thanks. Deon and Charles and everyone at Basil Read really committed themselves to the island and will be sorely missed when they head back to SA. Yes, you must come see it for yourself now. Thanks for the comment. Cheers 🙂
Cant wait to arrive there myself
Cool. Don’t wait too long! Cheers 🙂
Your new airport is beautiful, everyone on the island should be proud.
I think everyone will be once people get a chance to see it for themselves Larry. Thanks for your comment, always great to hear from you. Cheers 🙂
Darren / Sharon – Great! Congrats on an informative, comprehensive overview and fantastic photos. Always enjoy your blogs 🙂
Always enjoy your feedback 🙂 Thanks for the comment, glad you like it. Cheers 🙂
I am looking and reading with very great interest in the comments and I must congratulate Darren on his blog and the amount of interest he has taken in getting the right photo shots to reveal the reality of what has been achieved over the past four years. Well done Daren and watch this space for Sunday’s landing…
Thanks Tony, although it’s very much Darrin and Sharon’s blog; we’re a team in every way 🙂 Sunday’s landing will be another positive step toward 21 May. Cheers 🙂
Darren – brilliant piece, the best yet showing the Airport off and documenting all the hard work that has gone into this wonderful build. A joy to read. Roll on St Helena Day!
Thanks Colin. That St Helena Day is coming round very quickly now! Cheers 🙂
What fantastic photos! Well done Saints and everyone involved on the project. But to nit-pick, the project is neither on time nor on budget – it was meant to have been handed-over to SHG in February. Also, where are the internationally-recognised signs? There may only be a few visitors that cannot speak english, but in any other airport you get signs with graphics like a plane taking off to denote departures, a plane landing to denote arrivals, and so on. And yes, the Terminal is probably too small to accommodate passengers and family/friends. And a shame the excellent stone facades on the combined building are hidden by a big white building in front of it.
Thanks for your comment John, appreciate you taking the time. Cheers 🙂
It was a real privilege to see the airport under construction last year when we spent a magical day on the St Helena, thanks to you and Pat’s very kind hospitality. We will treasure the experience spending the brief time on your beautiful island. The new airport looks fantastic and your report does it justice. It will open the island experience to a lot more people and we hope one day we may return by air. We wish you well and hope the island prospers with the new opportunities it offers.
Hi Anne & Bob, was our pleasure showing you around last year, it really was a lovely day especially picknicking with Green Hill and that gorgeous view over Sandy Bay to ourselves! Look forward to seeing you back here one day, a bit longer this time so you can enjoy it more. Thanks for the comment, great to hear from you. Cheers 🙂
The airport looks just wonderful, or should i say beautiful. Once the airport is in operation, I will definitely be visiting the island to enjoy its splendour.
“Beautiful” indeed 🙂 Thanks for the comment, great to hear you will be visiting soon. Cheers
Amazing: Thanks for sharing this information and wonderful pictures. I think we should thank the British Government and DFID for making a good decision and all credit goes to our South African and St Helenian Contractors for delivering an Amazing product on time not forgetting all other construction work that has yet to be mention. For me on a personal note what will always stick in my mind is that my late Love one, some family members and friends who were all in favour of the air port and looking forward travelling by air, today is no longer with us. But I sincerely hope it will benefit all who were against St Helena having an air port and will grow to appreciate it.
I’m looking forward to seeing the next flights arriving and the Official Opening.
Thanks for the comment. The whole project has definitely stirred emotions for a lot of us; it’s been a long journey… Yes, credit without doubt to the dedicated men and women who worked so hard to make this project happen. Cheers 🙂
thank you for these photographs,we hope visit you with pleasure and curiosity
We look forward to having you visit – thanks for the comment.
Once again, such excellent writeup and photography of the very latest on the St Helena airport.
It all looks amazing and so wonderful just by reading and looking at the photos.
I sincerely hope when the time comes for the airport official opening, we will be able to view more of it on the ‘Breeze’ magazine.
We will do our best Baz, certainly will put in a request to photograph the official opening, it promises to be a great occasion. Glad you enjoyed the article, thanks for the feedback. Cheers 🙂
Fantastic pictures yet and commentary with every picture. I felt as if I was there . Looking forward to walking thro those doors next year (God willing )) and making np my way to. Levelwood. My home ,and to see all the changes since I was there 2004 . You all must be so excited now the opening is so near , wish I was one of the passengers on first flight from UK , we know we can rely on you for. Updates . Very much appricate do
Thanks Shirley, we appreciate the comment. Yes, we are very excited about air access and looking forward to seeing that first big plane come in. You won’t have too far to got to get to Levelwood after you land 🙂 Look forward to seeing you next year. Cheers
What a wonderfully poetic commentary by Darrin Henry. So flowingly descriptive of every area he passed through. The photos were super, but, he could quite as easily have been making a radio broadcast, as I could almost hear his voice. Thank you sir. T.C.
Thanks for a very kind comment Terence and great to know it the post has been enjoyed so much. Interestingly we’ve considered doing podcasts before, might have to give that one some more thought! Cheers 🙂
Looking forward to arrival of the aircraft
Us too 🙂 Cheers Clifford
It all looks absolutely stunning. God willing I will be able visit this little island paradise this year to see my eldest grandson. I have been pestering the travel agents for information regarding the new airport since last year, when I first heard about it. I wanted to know when it was opening, what flights were available etc. This post has given me a wonderful insight to the progress of the airport and all the hard work that has gone into the construction of it and I feel congratulations are in order for all who made it possible.
Lovely comment Brenda, thanks for that. Glad the information has been useful to you and I’m sure the Basil Read guys here and in SA will appreciate the congratulations, including all the Saint workers. Best wishes for a happy homecoming with your grandson. Cheers 🙂
Your excitement & sense of wonder shone through your excellent description. I remember walking through the terminal in February 2015 & how impressed I was, even then, by the first few sections of stone cladding.Now it looks beautiful. I can hardly contain my enthusiasm to see it when visiting next in 2018.
Thanks Roger, yes, I have to admit I did get very excited on this visit. It’s so great to see something so major like this happen on St Helena and to get done as we had hoped – or better even. Cheers 🙂
In 2006 I arrived on the island for the first time to start the initial pre-design survey for the airport and the Rupert’s Bay access road. I am now filled with a huge sense of achievement that this project has been completed 10 years later. This is the project that stands out in my survey career and I have become very fond of the the island and its people. I sincerely hope the airport has the positive impact on Echo tourism the island is renowned for.
Yes, agreed, fingers crossed the ambitions for development work out, it’s up to all of us to play our part in making that happen. Can imagine how wonderful it is for you to see the project has come on so well since your involvement. Thanks for your comment 🙂 Cheers
What happened to the baggage reclaim carousel for the airport built by Geo. Robson & Co. (Conveyors) Ltd and delivered already back in 2011 only four weeks after the airport was announced?
It was supposed to sit half inside the terminal and half outside for the baggage handlers to load with passengers’ luggage but I can’t see any carousel on the photos of the Baggage Reclaim hall above but only straight roller conveyors coming into the buliding.
For more details: http://www.hub-4.com/news/s1/4013/robson-ships-to-the-south-atlantic
Thanks for the comment Bernardo – not sure about the carousel you mentioned. I know the original plan did undergo changes, in fact there were a number of variations throughout the project, perhaps your best bet check with the SHG Access Office. You saw right in the pictures, there is no carousel, just the roller beds. Cheers
Hope to visit in May.
Excellent! Not long now 🙂
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Fantastic Photos, One day we hope to see it!!!
We hope you come to see it one day, too. Thanks for the comment.
Thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures, very impressive.
Thanks Pam – it certainly is a very impressive airport.
I read this with great turmoil in my mind and my heart. I am sad to see the “old way” go .. to have this piece of heaven change …. But I also know that urgent matters will be attended to much faster now .. It is a very nice airport, and best wishes when it opens .. looking forward to THAT post 🙂 We visited by boat in 2014 .. hopefully I will have the change again by plane …..
Thanks for the comment Leoni. Hopefully we will be able to bring you ‘that’ post next month 🙂 It promises to be a memorable event. Cheers
The airport looks just wonderful, or should i say beautiful. Once the airport is in operation, I will definitely be visiting the island to enjoy its splendour.