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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March 2005, 20:34 GMT
Saint Helena to get first airport
Map of St Helena
St Helena came under control of the British crown in 1834
The British territory of St Helena, in the south Atlantic, has been given approval to build its first airport.

The Department for International Development (Dfid) said the remote island - accessible only by ship - should have air access by 2010.

Dfid will provide funding to design, build and operate the airport.

St Helena's Access Project Manager, Sharon Wainwright, said long-awaited news had been welcomed: "Everyone here is still walking on air."

We are sure we can develop the proposal into a huge success that will lead to economic growth and considerable advantages for the island
Michael Clancy
Governor of St Helena

Currently, the last remaining "Royal Mail Ship", the RMS St Helena is the only public form of access to the island and comes to the end of her working life in 2010.

It takes 14 days for the ship to sail from the UK to St Helena, two days from Ascension Island and seven days from Cape Town.

The island's governor, Michael Clancy, said the decision to build an airport would be "momentous" in the history of St Helena.

"We are sure we can develop the proposal into a huge success that will lead to economic growth and considerable advantages for the island," he said.

'Long process'

Access project manager Sharon Wainwright said efforts to get an airport for St Helena had been going on since the 1960s.

"St Helena is very mountainous and there's hardly any flat land that would be suitable for an airport. But technology has moved on and this enables us to move on.

I think the 'saints', as we call ourselves, have been waiting over 40 years and it's finally been announced and I think everyone is rather shocked
Sharon Wainwright
Access Project Manager

"I think the 'saints', as we call ourselves, have been waiting over 40 years and it's finally been announced and I think everyone is rather shocked."

Mrs Wainwright said St Helena mainly survived through fishing, a small amount of agriculture and currently very small amounts of tourists and was in economic decline.

"We can't develop tourism, people can't get enough time off work to get here. "People are leaving the island: many young, many able, many skilled people are leaving to work abroad.

"So we had to look towards the future and see what could be done to turn our island around."

'Monumental move'

Stuart Moors, the editor of the a weekly paper on the island, the St Helena Herald, said the airport plan was "a monumental move for St Helena - it has been described as the biggest thing since Napoleon" [the French emperor died on the island in 1821].

He said the announcement was made on Monday in Plantation House, the official residence of the island's governor.

"When the announcement was made, there was a very sincere explosion of excitement."

Mr Moors said there were a number of people who had initially opposed the idea of an airport but that the decline in population from around 5,000 to some 3,900 had led them to change their minds.

St Helena
Some residents were concerned the island would lose its uniqueness

"In the main they're probably emotional in that St Helena has a very peculiar way of life because it's so isolated and the way of getting to and from the island is slow that it doesn't attract a lot of visitors.

"Most of them are afraid that an airport would change that irreversibly," he said.

But Mr Moors said he did not believe the island would be overrun by tourists and that the airport project would be well managed and take St Helena's environment into account.

"If those fears are addressed I think some of the objections go away even if the emotion doesn't change."

"People realise now that St Helena has got a future that its economic stability is relatively secure."

The new airport will be located on Prosperous Bay Plain - on the eastern coast of the island.

It will incorporate a total runway length of 2250 metres, suitable for planes as large as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-800.




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