Stanley Airport Celebrates 25th Birthday

Penguin News, May 2004

The museum is hosting a special display to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Stanley's small but busy airport.  

For many years the only method of travelling outside the Falklands was by sea.  This option was withdrawn in 1971, and lead to a formal communications agreement between the British and Argentine governments to operate an airlink between Stanley and Comodoro Rivadavia.  Initially the Grumman HU-16B Albatross amphibious aircraft provided a service on a  weekly basis.  This ungainly monster would sometimes use Rocket Assisted Take-Off (RATO) packs to help it into the air.  The same political agreement also allowed the Argentines to build and operate a temporary airport at Hookers Point.  Built from aluminium planking the runway came into service in November 1972.  The Fokker F27 Friendships were introduced and operated from the runway until 1978 when high winds tore up large sections of the aluminium planking leaving the runway unusable.

In the meantime UK company Johnson Construction had been awarded a contract to build Stanley Airport and the Airport Road, with the first drainage works beginning in 1974.  Many Islanders were involved with the building as subcontractors and these years proved to be quite a boon for the local workers earning the higher wages offered by the company.  Additionally many of the workers learned operating and engineering skills that would be beneficial for future projects.  When completed, the runway was 4,000 feet long and 150 feet wide.

Stanley Airport was officially opened on Tuesday 1 May 1979 by Sir Vivian Fuchs.  The first official landing recorded was by Jim Kerr piloting Bill Luxton's Cessna 172 with Stephen Luxton and the late Terry Reive as passengers.  However, some months before, local pilot Robin Pitaluga heard that an Argentine F27 was to make a trial landing on the new runway and promptly pre-empted the possibility with a landing in his own light aircraft, making a Falklands registered aircraft the first to touch down at the new airport.

On the evening of 1 April 1982, it became known that an Argentine invasion force was approaching the Falklands.  The runway was barricaded with heavy machinery and vehicles in an attempt to stop aircraft landing.  Under Argentine occupation the airport suffered extensive damage as did FIGAS aircraft and private aircraft owned by Robin Pitaluga, Bill Luxton and Rex Hunt.

From June 1982 to May 1986 the Royal Air Force operated from the airport which became known as RAF Stanley.  RAF Stanley ceased to exist on 30 April 1986 when the military moved to the purpose built RAF Mount Pleasant.  Temporary aluminium planking was removed to reveal the original 4,000 foot runway and by April 1987 Stanley Airport was nearly back to its pre-war state.

For several years in the early 1990s the Chilean airline Aerovias DAP flew a fortnightly service between Stanley and Punta Arenas using Twin Otter and King Air aircraft.  These flights were replaced with the Lan Chile service flying into Mount Pleasant. 

Published in Penguin News on 21 May 2004 and reprinted with the kind permission of the Editor.

 

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