Flight of fancy becomes reality

One of humanity's most isolated outposts joined the 21st century last Saturday when the British island of St Helena, home to "the world's most useless airport", welcomed its first commercial flight.

The 4,500 residents of St Helena, a British colony since 1658 located 1,900km west of Angola - most famous as the place French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte breathed his last - might be forgiven for thinking the day would never come.

There has been talk of building an airport on St Helena since the 1930s. The best site - one of the few flat spaces on the notoriously craggy island - was ruled out due to a nearby breeding ground for the endangered wirebird.

An airport at the new site, on top of a valley filled in with 8 million cubic m of rock, suffered numerous setbacks as costs ballooned to £285 million (S$514 million).

London media were quick to condemn it as "the world's most useless airport", with a price tag of more than £60,000 for every Saint, as the island's residents are known.

As the inaugural plane from Johannesburg touched down on the forbidding volcanic outcrop last Saturday, those on board clapped and cheered.

British travel operator Libby Weir-Breen, who has been taking tourists to the island for the past 12 years, said: "I have never felt so emotional in all my life."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2017, with the headline 'Flight of fancy becomes reality'. Print Edition | Subscribe