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Touching Down on “This Cursed Rock”: First Plane Lands in Napoleon’s Last Exile

 

The island of Saint Helena is one of the world’s most remote places. Surrounded by the deep, cold waters of the South Atlantic, the British territory is famous for serving as the final exile of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the place where he drew his last breath. There are 4,250 people living on the volcanic outcrop, which Napoleon dubbed “this cursed rock.” Their only link to the world has been a five-day ride on packet ship that arrives once every three weeks.

But that’s about the change. Last week, the first plane touched down on the island’s first runway. Workers have also started putting the finishing touches on St. Helena’s very first airport, which will open up the island to tourists and history buffs and break its isolation.

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The first plane ever landed on St. Helena in September 2015. All images credits: St. Helena Access Office.

Last week’s touchdown was the beginning of a series of landings designed to calibrate the landing strip, which is perched atop a steep cliff overlooking fierce Atlantic breakers.

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One partner helping local authorities with the project was AviaSolutions, a unit of GE Capital Aviation Services’ (GECAS). GECAS is one of the core financing units that will remain part of GE after the company’s planned exit from banking.

The airport is scheduled to open in 2016, when the carrier Comair Limited will start weekly flights from Johannesburg, South Africa, with a brand-new Boeing 737-800.

When that happens, the island that kept Napoleon in won’t be able to keep the world out.

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