The UK government continues to operate an international airport at taxpayers’ expense even though it has not received a single scheduled flight in the year since it opened.
Located on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Africa, Saint Helena Airport was built in May 2016 to act as a lifeline between the island’s inhabitants and the world.
As the island of Saint Helena is a British Overseas Territory, its construction was financed by Her Majesty’s Treasury.
The cost of the project was a staggering £285 million (US$370 million), as the airport was built to accommodate such large aircraft as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, despite the island’s population being just over 4,000 people.
The expense seems to be even less justifiable when considering the facility’s unofficial nickname: ‘The world’s most useless airport.’ It has not operated a regular scheduled service since it was built.
Safety concerns over the small runway caused severe delays in construction and the royal opening in May 2016 was canceled when a test flight revealed that strong windshear – sharp changes in wind speed and direction – made landings of civilian aircraft unsafe.
As a result, the planned British Airways service from Johannesburg, South Africa, was canceled and the ocean liner the ‘RMS St Helena’ was brought out of retirement to ensure that the sea link to the island would continue.
However, chief executive for economic development of enterprise on Saint Helena, Niall O’Keeffe, insists on the importance of the airport to the financial development of the island.
“Scheduled air services are what is needed to build a sustainable tourism industry on Saint Helena,” he said, according to the Independent.
“As a remote small island developing state, the onset of air services is crucial to enable the development of a sustainable economy in the long-term.
“The opportunities for tourism and investment as the island opens up as the newest air destination in the world cannot be overstated.”
Recently, the island’s government announced that Airlink, a South African company, would run a connecting service from Johannesburg to Saint Helena via Windhoek, Namibia, each Saturday.
However, this would entail even further expense to the British taxpayer, as the UK government will co-finance the operation of the flights, paying up to £1.9 million in the first year of the service.