Did St Helena Airport warning come too late?

First_Comair_Boeing_737-800_flight_to_Saint_Helena_Airport_(191)2A British peer has waded into the row over how £285 million of UK taxpayers’ money came to be spent on a new airport for the remote South Atlantic island of St Helena – with a runway that is considered too dangerous to land on.

Lord Michael Ashcroft is demanding to know why the St Helena Government and the UK Department for International Development (DfID) have refused to make public a report that was prepared by the national Met Office.

The opening of the £285 million airport, originally planned for February this year, has twice been postponed because of safety concerns over wind shear: unpredictable winds that can push an aircraft off-course as it attempts to land and take off.

Ashcroft said the Met Office sent a 42-page report – Wind Shear Analysis: St Helena Airport – to the island’s government in January 2015, but that it took months for it to be forwarded to airlines planning to operate flights there.

Ashcroft – who has had sight of the report – said it stated: “Due to this south-easterly prevailing wind and the north-south orientation of the airport runway, crosswinds at the surface are very likely to impact operations at the St Helena Airport, particularly if there are wet runway conditions.”

“Due to the steep slopes close to the runway there is a risk of localised orographic effects including small scale flow acceleration (as airflow is channelled by the terrain) and flow separation leading to fairly slack near surface flow…If the flow does indeed separate then the risk of wind shear could be considerable as the 2,000 ft winds are often relatively strong and the flow in the recirculation region will be relatively weak.”

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“Their seemingly extensive report was commissioned three years after the airport site had been chosen and the wind warnings they highlighted undoubtedly fall into the ‘too little, too late’ category,” Ashcroft said. “In short, it now looks as if not enough was done prior to 2011 – when the contract to build the new airport was signed – to ensure it was being located in the right place and could be fully operational once completed.”

DfID tells Air Traffic Management that although the report findings have been overtaken by subsequent work, all relevant information was sent to interested airlines and that expert studies as far back as 2004 concluded that the current site was the only option. “An external expert has been appointed to review the evidence and the department will establish an independent panel from both Government and the private sector to find a solution,” it said.

Passenger flights by Comair and Atlantic Star Airlines remain postponed indefinitely.

Read Work continues to overcome St Helena airport wind shear issues

Posted in Airports, News, Safety

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