For generations, getting to St. Helena, a British Overseas Territory between Angola, in southwest Africa, and Brazil, meant a voyage on “the last commercially operating Royal Mail Ship”: the R.M.S. Helena.
No longer, sort of: The island’s first passenger flight has landed — after centuries of isolation and 10 years of renovations at the island’s airport, costing the British government the highly controversial sum of $368M.
This 60-passenger flight was, in fact, an emergency measure, after two successive postal boats from Cape Town were cancelled. But when the plane landed, it became the first time regular passengers had arrived on the island by air. The flight came after plans to land tourists at the costly airport have moved forward in fits and starts — even after the completion of construction in May 2016, experts performing validation flights, just one month later, found that dangerous winds at the airport would make flights from the north difficult for large airliners. Meanwhile, approaches from the south necessitate landing with a tail wind — not a first choice among pilots. All this hoopla has given St. Helena’s airport the illustrious title of “the world’s most useless.”
Future flights remain TBD.
For visitors willing to brave the South Atlantic — either by postal ship or a second passenger flight, whenever it’s chartered — St. Helena offers numerous attractions, including sportfishing, hiking and being the island where Napoleon Bonaparte died in exile — as well as the pleasures of telling a crowd you’ve visited one of the (still) most remote places on Earth.
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