For the first time ever, travelers can book a flight to St. Helena, the remote British island territory where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his final years in exile, Travel + Leisure reports.
St. Helena's new airport recently welcomed its first scheduled commercial passenger flight, a plane from Johannesburg, South Africa, that touched down on October 14. From here on out, South African airline SA Airlink Ltd. will provide weekly flights to and from Johannesburg and St. Helena.
Located in the South Atlantic, the rugged volcanic island was previously accessible only by lengthy boat excursion. While officials had discussed building an airport there since the 1930s, the ideal site—one of the island’s few flat expanses—was near a breeding ground for the endangered wirebird.
In recent years, the island decided to fill a valley with 8 million cubic meters of rock, according to Reuters, and construct the travel hub there. A runway and terminal were finally completed in 2016, but gusty crosswinds made it unsafe for pilots to attempt test flights with large aircrafts. The travel hub was deemed "the world’s most useless airport" by the British press, who also condemned the project’s steep overhead costs. Now, St. Helena officials are finally getting the last laugh.
St. Helena is home to Jonathan, an ancient 185-year-old giant tortoise that might be the world’s oldest living land creature, and Longwood House, the lodging where Napoleon lived after he was exiled from France following his loss at the Battle of Waterloo. (The military leader died on St. Helena in 1821, at the age of 61.) But while the island has historic attractions, unusual features, and natural beauty to spare, officials aren’t anticipating a huge tourism boom now that the far-flung outpost finally has an airport (each weekly flight ferries fewer than 100 passengers due to weight restrictions).
Despite its reputation as a boondoggle, St. Helena’s airport has already facilitated multiple emergency medical evacuations since it was completed last year, including one case that involved a newborn baby, according to The Independent.
"I've seen the headlines about the world's most useless airport, but for St. Helena, this has already been the most useful airport," governor Lisa Phillips told reporters. "It's priceless."
[h/t Travel + Leisure]