A Tale of Two Airports 62

The folly involved in the United Kingdom continuing to cling on to tiny relics of Empire is underlined by considering two airports. Firstly we have St Helena, where DFID have famously wasted £250 million of taxpayers’ money on an airport which cannot be used because of wind shear.


Private Eye is having some fun at DFID’s expense, on the back of Tory MP Stephen Phillips pointing out that Darwin had described the wind shear well over a century ago. Here is the full passage from Darwin:

“The only inconvenience I suffered during my walks was from the impetuous winds. One day I noticed a curious circumstance; standing on the edge of a plain, terminated by a great cliff of about a thousand feet in depth, I saw at the distance of a few yards right to windward, some tern, struggling against a very strong breeze, whilst, where I stood, the air was quite calm. Approaching close to the brink, where the current seemed to be deflected upwards from the face of the cliff, I stretched out my arm, and immediately felt the full force of the wind: an invisible barrier, two yards in width, separated perfectly calm air from a strong blast.” (from Chapter 21 of The Voyage of the Beagle)

My general criticism of DFID is that they should be doing more infrastructure projects, rather than handing over cash to highly corrupt governments as “budget support”, or channelling funds through the big charities which spend them on massive executive salaries, consultancy fees and housing, air conditioning and Toyota Land Cruisers for their expatriate staff. But now it seems DFID can no longer deliver a large project half sensibly either.

It really is a tragedy for Saint Helena, where the economic prospects could be transformed by an air link to the rest of the world. The island is now far more isolated than it was in the nineteenth century, when it was a vital provisioning stop for vessels. I note in passing that Napoleon’s hat was taken from St Helena by Lord Panmure and now rather incongruously rests in a cabinet in Montrose Museum.

British attitudes to St Helena were for generations of malign neglect, and the recent laudable attempt to improve things has been destroyed by gross incompetence – for which nobody has resigned or been sacked.

By comparison, the equally isolated Chagos Islands have an excellent airport, owned by the British Government, on Diego Garcia. The problem here of course is that the British government brutally uprooted and deported the entire local population, and leased the base to the United States, keeping the previous inhabitants away by force.


In its regal majesty, the British government has condescended to consider a proposal whereby a tiny fraction of the deported population will be allowed to return to certain outlying islands. The bad faith of the entire approach was underlined by the British declaration of the entire 200 mile exclusive economic zone around the islands as “the world’s first marine protected area” where all fishing is banned. That Britain nowhere else shows an interest in extreme marine conservation, except around a military base from which it has ethnically cleansed the population, we are supposed to believe is a coincidence. To underline the cynicism and deliberate immorality of the move, I need only say it was the work of David Miliband. The International Court of Arbitration at the Hague declared Miliband’s action in support of ethnic cleansing illegal last year, which of course has not affected his £400,000 a year job in “charity” work.

If the mighty British sovereign graciously permits a few of these islanders – who were her subjects before she deported them – to return to their own land, the British government does however have a trick up its sleeve to make sure to prevent a viable economy from being established. The government proposals for “limited return” are specific that regular flights will not be allowed to use the airport.

Personally, I should like to see the US air force removed and the islands demilitarised. But even without that, dual military and civilian use of runways exists in a great many locations all round the world and there is no reason whatsoever why civilian flights could not land. Indeed, passing billionaires are permitted to land their Lear jets already to refuel. But of course, making the islands viable for tourism and a population is not the goal here. The goal is to make them unviable.

So there we have it, a tale of two airports on extremely remote islands. One built at vast expense which cannot be used, and one perfectly viable which the government will not permit to be used. It is a story which sums up the shame, immorality and international criminality of the UK’s continuing Imperial pretensions.

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62 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Airports

  • kief

    We had a bridge to nowhere to satisfy a campaign commitment. Do you think these pot-o-gold projects are intended for actual service?

    • Tom Welsh

      Of course not. They are intended to line the pockets of those to whom “political capital” is owed. For that purpose, it is actually advantageous that they cannot be used – like the famous hospital in “Yes, Minister”, the presence of actual users would just complicate matters and show up any defects.

      The British haven’t yet reached anything like the towering heights of pork achieved by the F-35 program and similar American military Towers of Babel.

      • Tom Welsh

        Although we did build those bloody aircraft carriers – just when it is finally obvious to everyone who knows anything about weapon systems that carriers are obsolete white elephants. (In WW2 the Russians called the British Churchill tank, with its ineffectual gun and inadequate armour, “a grave for seven brothers” – but the American carriers are “a burial at sea for 4,000 brothers”).

  • Sharp Ears

    Ignorant people are still signing this Avaaz petition although Mil(l)ipede Snr left these shores for the US years ago!


    When Avaaz sent this petition to me, I told them what to do with it.

    Soros funds them.

    United States
    Website http://www.avaaz.org/en/about.php
    Founded 2007 by “Res Publica, a global civic advocacy group, and Moveon.org,” a George Soros-funded organization involved in ideological and political campaigns in the United States.

    In their own words
    To empower “millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues, from corruption and poverty to conflict and climate change.”

    !!!! Irony is dead



  • Tom Welsh

    Donald Trump has made public commitments to spending far more on US infrastructure, and employing far more Americans. To do so he will be compelled to cut military spending substantially, but he wants more soldiers and weapons. That leaves the network of bases around the world, which don’t accomplish anything and waste prodigious sums of money. If Trump does decide to cut overseas bases, surely Diego Garcia would be right at the top of the list. It’s immense, and must cost a fortune to run.

    A worthwhile side-effect would be the wave of apoplexy in the Pentagon. “But how will we be able to bomb Asia and Africa?”

    • kailyard rules

      We here in the mist can only hope his sand bunker tantrum with Salmond still fumes and he takes his Trident ordnance toys home with him to neo-republican Amerikka.

  • bevin

    It is always good to see confirmation of the fact that the scoundrels who run the system are not only greedy, evil and cowardly but ignorant and stupid too.

  • Sharp Ears

    Ref the St Helena airport. Mooted by Brown (Wee Duggie @ DfID) when PM and but postponed because of the crash.

    Under Andrew Mitchell, the then Secretary of State, and Billy Fourteen Pints, Hague as Foreign Secretary, the proposal was accepted.

    Presumably, Justine Greening who succeeded Mitchell when he left DfID carried on.

    10 Controversy
    10.1 Bidding process
    10.2 Environmental issues

    The whole thing is so laughable, a sitcom could be made of it.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    I can’t help feeling that the criticism of St Helena’s airport has been played to the Sun-reading gallery. If the wind’s wrong, sure, you can’t land on runway 20. However, the wind isn’t always wrong, operations are going ahead, and ASSI has just recertified the airport. I’d imagine that any runway on the island would be subject to ifs, buts and maybes, due not only to wind shear but to down/updraughts from the surrounding precipitous scenery – the airport has limited functionality, some of which was known from the start, but it’s not a complete waste of time and effort.

    • kief

      I thought about that. There is quite a wind-shear problem at Dallas/Ft Worth. In 60 some years I think there was but one DC10 that went down some 30 years ago. But the mothballs are already ordered for St Helena. The die is cast.

    • craig Post author

      No. The certification only relates to airport security, passenger handling etc of the airport facilities. It has nothing to do with the aviation side.

        • glenn_uk

          I used to fly planes. Wind shear is absolutely terrifying – probably the single most feared event by pilots, other than disastrous mechanical failure, unfriendly missiles, hijackers and so on. Once caught, there’s little you can do about it – it’s that sudden. You can literally drop out of the air in moments, despite having what looked like a perfect setup for a landing.

        • Bob Smith

          There are many runways across the world where wind shear is an issue but most are able to redirect aircraft to another airport. The trouble with St Helena is its remote location and that means planes would constantly be turned back at the half way mark. If the wind kicks up when the plane is a couple of hundred miles out, most would not have enough fuel to abort and would have to risk landing.

      • Alcyone

        Yes, proof that a little knowledge is dangerous. Applies evermore in the Internet Age when you can allegedly google everything.

      • Bhante

        Ah, so if they send the aircraft to Saint Helena loaded on a ship, the passengers could make good and worthwhile use of the certified aircraft security and passenger handling facilities. What about using those two useless new aircraft carriers? Just weld a couple of old jumbos permanently to the deck of each aircraft carrier (new meaning) and send them back and forth by sea, two aircraft at a time on each ship, one for each direction.

        Though, judging from the photo, a little extra work would need to be done getting the passengers from the aircraft (on the ship) to the runway and terminal buildings, which seem to be a little higher up. Just round it up a bit to the odd 500 million, and there’s more than enough to go round the pockets the need replenishing.

    • Ba'al Zevul


      I’m just saying that reports of the demise of the airport are greatly exaggerated. No more than that. I’m not trivialising wind shear, and I know it’s dangerous. However, it’s not a constant hazard, and as the link shows, work is under way to maximise the airport’s limited usability.

      Alcyone, surely it’s better to use the immense resources of the internet to inform oneself (and others) than to restrict oneself to stalking and sniping at posters you’ve decided Krishnamurti wouldn’t like. Stop humping my leg.

  • Republicofscotland

    “Firstly we have St Helena, where DFID have famously wasted £250 million of taxpayers’ money on an airport which cannot be used because of wind shear.”


    One wonders if some of the £250 million quid, was syphoned off and used for other purposes, I doubt those in charge of the project, didn’t realise the strength of the wind shear.

    As for the Chagos islands, the British complain that China and Russia usurp lands (Crimea) or build artifical island in the Pacific ocean to claim sovereignty over that area. Yet they keep quiet the plight of the unjustly removed Chagossian peoples from their lands.

    Speaking of viable airports and attracting tourism, there’s a plan in the pipeline to build a airport, or rather runway on the isle of Skye. I’d also like to add that the isle of Barra’s airport runway is a sandy beach.

    Here’s a few photos of Barra’s runway.



  • Habbabkuk

    I would certainly agree with Craig’s comments (1) that the St Helena airport affair was a king-size bungle and indicative of inefficiency and waste and (2) that the return of the Chagossians might well be made more viable by the development of tourism through allowing dual use of the airport.

    As often, however, Craig somehow succeeds in diminishing the respect one would otherwise accord to what he says by going way over the top at the end. To say that the story of those two airports “sums up the shame, immorality and international criminality of the UK’s continuing Imperial pretensions” is pure hyperbole, in particular as far as the reference to “continuing imperial pretensions” is concerned. Nothing wrong in general with hyperbole of course, but its use should be reserved for more sophisticated and less excitable audiences than the average commenter on here.

    • Habbabkuk

      In the light of Baal’s comment, which I have just seen, I’ll amend the above as follows:

      “…(1) that the St Helena airport might turn out to have been a king-size bungle…”.

    • kief

      What is it you don’t understand about politics…lol. Who just blind-sided the status quo with a victory in the US elections? Hyperbole rules dude….lol.

      • Habbabkuk

        I see your point, Kief. The only problem is that I didn’t think Craig was a politician…. 🙂

    • bevin

      It is a matter of priorities. With at least 40,000 fatalities per annum as a result of the inability of pensioners to afford fuel, and cutbacks in every sector social sector the waste of a quarter of a billion pounds on an airport which cannot work is criminal.
      Hyperbole may be a problem but a much bigger problem is the complacency of the comfortably-off about the waste of precious resources while famine-literally- stalks the land.

    • Mayeaux Wren


      So close and yet so far. Craig’s last sentence was intended for a more sophisticated and less excitable commenter. Which is to say: the sort of individual who wouldn’t waste their time writing two paragraphs on a single sentence’s possible hyperbolical nature, whether such a thing is permissable, and if so, for whom.

      See! A miss is as good as that most splendid of things, a mile. Bravo.

    • Dave Price

      Habbakuk said:

      ?? ??? ?ℎ?? ?ℎ? ????? ?? ?ℎ??? ??? ???????? “???? ?? ?ℎ? ?ℎ???, ?????????? ??? ????????????? ??????????? ?? ?ℎ? ??’? ?????????? ???????? ???????????” ?? ???? ℎ????????.

      On the contrary, to say that that sentence is pure hyperbole, is pure hyperbole.

      You may have a point about the specific phrase ‘continuing Imperial pretensions’: I can’t see that we are currently engaged in building an Empire, unlike say the US or Russia. Nonetheless it is no exaggeration to say that the UK is guilty of shameful, immoral and internationally criminal behaviour.

      • Habbabkuk

        That is why I continued the sentence you quote with “.. in particular as far as the reference to “continuing imperial pretensions” is concerned.”

        Hope that helps you (this second time round).

        • Dave Price

          Brave try Habbakuk, but I think we’ll have to disagree on the strange meaning you’re now claiming for the phrase ‘in particular’ in the context. For the removal of any doubt, I’m with the rest of the English-speaking world on this.

          Epsilon+ I’m afraid.
          (+ for effort though).

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Seems to me mostly complaining about imperial vestiges which still have people living there who have to be taken care of, especially since shipping to do so is no longer available.

  • Brianfujisan

    “It is a story which sums up the shame, immorality and international criminality of the UK’s continuing Imperial pretensions.”

    Well said Craig, Very True, Proven Facts.

  • Aubrey

    This is a dream! The world is changing as we speak! lets see what is gonna be next month or next year. We have like 5 weeks till Christmas!

  • Alcyone

    So, let’s understand the FACTS:

    1. Ex-Mod Clark posts tirelessly on 9/11 on the relevant thread
    2. Baal posts tirelessly on Tony Blair ON THE RELEVANT THREAD
    3. All of us ADHERE to what has become convention: O/topics go on a previous thread and you resist posting o/t on the top-thread until one is at least a page-full of say 100 comments deep.
    4. Now, Mary strolls in on a Sunday night, at around comment no #25 and starts talking about Assange as if she is The Sole Appointed Purveyor of Compassion on this Blog. Unchecked, she audaciously without BEARING repeats this on Monday morning.
    5. IT IS POINTED out to Moderators, they CHOOSE (btw, Choice means Confusion) to delete ONLY the latter comment and leave the former standing.

    Really DOES make one THINK is Mary a protected species? Does she get a special pass here? (And this, despite her history here of divisiveness and endless ticker-tape-style of second-hand copy-paste news?

    At a time when the blog has regenerated after the new format and Mary’s thankful absence, and MORE IMPORTANTLY when Craig is promoting his new book, is this what we need?

    I’l take a cue from Trumps ‘Think Straight, Talk Straight’ If you ask me, CRAP moderating, but it’s not my Blog.

    • bevin

      Congratulations on having the neck to charge Mary with ‘divisiveness.”
      Nobody is more guilty of sheer nastiness and gratuitously insulting all and sundry than yourself. And this latest post is just another example of your passion for arrogant, self preening verbal displays.
      The attempt to drag commercial considerations into the matter is laughably characteristic.
      As to ‘cutting and pasting’ links to information and informed opinion, those who do it are performing a service, of which we may choose to avail ourselves. Or not.
      Do you imagine that it is done out of vanity? Methinks thou doth project too much.

      • Habbabkuk

        I wouldn’t say that Sharp Ears is divisive, not at least as far as this blog is concerned (that is because there is a kind of pensée unique on here).

        But it is certainly true that she loves to divert;

        She also barges into any thread and any discussion whenever she feels the urgent need to provide a cut and paste, or have a go at Israel, or criticise a successful woman, or to “investigate” someone’s family and so on

        Then, she will never respond to a challenge to back up something she’s written or apologise when it has been shown that she has misled (whether this is through ignorance or just cussedness only she can know).

        Lastly, she dislikes having her offerings moderated. Of course, so do all of us but I believe that only she and her friend Macks have stormed off the blog because they have hqd q couple of their “comments” deleted.

        • Macky

          It wouldn’t be a typical Habbu-Clown smear if it didn’t knowingly contain a blatant lie; the reason why I refrained from commenting here for a while was in disgust at Craig ugly Russophobic comments regarding the victims of the Odessa Massacre, as can be verified by checking my comments at the time over on Squonk.

      • Ba'al Zevul

        He/She’s trying to look big by belittling her betters, Ears. Note the lack of substantive content and the woolly-minded pseudo-philosophy, injected gratuitously at random intervals. Who’s she/it trying to impress, I wonder?

      • Sharp Ears

        Q. Is there any connection between the arrival of tonight’s supermoon and today’s combining of the trolls making asinine and ad hominem remarks?

        They certainly add to the integrity of this blog. Not.

  • Alcyone

    Craig: He Who (mostly, rightfully) holds the Mainstream Media to account, should keep his House in Order.

  • LordSnooty

    Bravo, a rhetorical tour de force in four paragraphs that succinctly nails the compulsive mendacity of our government.

  • Mick McNulty

    The audacity of the US [and its minion the UK] telling China it can’t build upon reefs to project its military into the South China Sea, and to enforce that denial the US projects its military into the South China Sea, when the US stole Hawaii and the UK nicked the Falkands. Heck, the Falklands don’t even have the same stars in the sky as us (well, maybe the equatorial constellations are the same but aren’t they upside-down?) And they’re so far away if you sailed much further you’d be coming back round the planet again.

    But the ultimate hypocrisy of both is saying all this after what they did to the Chagos Islanders. To tell the Chinese what they’re doing is wrong is like fresh turds telling old slippers there’s a taint about you.

    • craig Post author

      I am afraid Mick that what the Chinese are doing is very wrong, and it’s a very important principle. Artificial islands can’t establish maritime territories. If they could the bloody superpowers would be competing to construct them all over the shop and claim the whole seas to the detriment of anyone else. You would have Trump Islands springing up everywhere there is a continental shelf to put one on.

      But what the British have done to the Chagos islanders is of course still more wrong and immoral at every level.

      • Anon1

        Says the man who would dismiss the right to self-determination of the Falklanders at the stroke of a pen.

      • Courtenay Barnett


        Are the Islands not a Chinese response to the American expansion into the Pacific?

        If their primary maritime trade route is to be threatened – and – there is no diplomatic solution – then is it not the military and bases to which they then resort; as they have?

        Not to detract from your correct legal point in saying the foregoing.


        • Ba'al Zevul

          Not aware that any trade routes are being threatened by the US (yet). Most of the consumer goods sold in the US and everywhere else are Chinese, these days. They seem to be getting through ok.

        • Bayard

          “Are the Islands not a Chinese response to the American expansion into the Pacific?”

          Expansion? Hasn’t the US had an empire in the Pacific since the C19th?

      • J Galt

        Quite possibly you’re right Craig.

        However this is the real world, if the Chinese went about only doing what was “Right” they’d be fucked!

    • Anon1

      What the Chinese are doing does not bear comparison. They are dredging whole reefs off the ocean floor to create vast man-made islands, which they then call Chinese territory. It is an ecological disaster apart from anything else.

      • J Galt

        The US doesn’t need to bother with all that.

        All it needs to do is go into already existing islands ie. the Philippines, kill a few of the inhabitants, intimidate or bribe the rest and Hey Presto!

        Mind you the Philippines thing doesn’t seem to be working out that greatly for them at the moment – time for a spot of more killing perchance?

  • RobG

    This is one of the best news pieces I’ve heard recently. I love St Helena. A long sea voyage to get there from the UK (which now costs quite a large sum of money), most of the inhabitants have pirate ancestry, and speak the same lingo; and did I mention that Napoleon is buried there?

    St Helena is a perfect *stop the world I want to get off* kind of place. They’ve only had internet access very recently, let alone the white elephant airport.

    What’s a few hundred million quid down the drain when the UK government recently pledged £170 billion to bomb Syria.

    It’s a funny old world…

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