(Image: NASA. The isolated runway on Ascension Island)
It’s been 35 years since Avro Vulcan B2 XM607 bombed the runway at Port Stanley Airfield on the Falkland Islands. A recent report in the Telegraph claims that the Ascension Island runway, from which the mighty V-bomber took off on what was then the longest bombing raid in history, is now also suffering from “potholes”.
As a result, dozens of people including scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are now stranded on the Falklands. The closure of the Ascension Island runway, a crucial mid-point in the strategic “South Atlantic Air Bridge” between the UK and the southern archipelago, means roughly two weekly flights from RAF Brize Norton have had to be rerouted via Senegal in West Africa.
(Image: Neil Fantom. The ageing RMS St Helena pictured in 2015)
Confirmation of Ascension’s runway troubles comes a year after the British government admitted that the brand new £250,000,000 airstrip on St Helena couldn’t accommodate larger aircraft due to wind shear. The creaking cargo liner RMS St Helena was dragged out of retirement and pressed back into service, but the ship is currently laid up in South Africa having sprung a leak, reports the Telegraph.
As a result, residents on the two mid-Atlantic islands of St Helena and Ascension have been left increasingly isolated, adding to concerns over the “essential” nature of the RAF Ascension Island runway to the security of the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory.
(Image: NASA. The remote mid-Atlantic island of St Helena)
“Ascension Island accommodates only a few hundred people, all of whom are employed on the Island and there is no automatic right to live there”, reports the Telegraph. “St Helena, by contrast has a population of around 4,500, whose leaders have been desperately trying to boost the island’s economy by improving transport links.”
“Because its airstrip can only accommodate short-haul aircraft, islanders rely on flights to RAF Ascension in order to reach the UK, a link which has now been severed.” Former international development minister Lord Foulkes told the newspaper: “For this to happen on the back of the situation with the St Helena runway is a farce, bordering on tragedy. The problems with RMS St Helena make it even worse.”
(Image: Paul Tyson. St Helena Airport in April 2016)
A notice on the RAF Brize Norton website states: “Due to runway repairs required to the Ascension Island runway, the MOD is temporarily rerouting the South Atlantic Airbridge via an alternative location. The MOD continues to advise all passengers to contact their local booking office for up to date flight departure / arrival information prior to travel. We will ensure the continuation of military support to the Falkland Islands through an alternative hub, and are working with the Foreign Office to put in place measures to support the people who live and work on Ascension Island.”