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An airport dubbed the 'world's most useless' has finally welcomed its first commercial flight .
The British island of St. Helena - one of humanity's most isolated outposts in the middle of the south Atlantic - was welcomed into the 21st century on Saturday.
The long-awaited inaugural plane from Johannesburg touched down on the forbidding volcanic outcrop and, true to the much-maligned airport's chequered history, it was late.
The UK taxpayer-funded development on the remote island welcomed its first 78 commercial airline passengers at just before 2pm on Saturday, approximately 45 minutes behind schedule, following their departure from South Africa.
St Helena Airport, built with £285 million of funding from the Department for International Development (Dfid), was due to open last year but the launch of commercial flights was delayed because of dangerous wind conditions.
Further trials were carried out in August and the airport was given the go-ahead to begin operations by South African aviation authorities.
Airlink's Embraer E190-100IGW aircraft was due to land at 1.15pm local time (2.15pm BST) on Saturday but ended up touching down at 1.58pm (2.58pm BST).
"I’ve never felt so emotional in all my life," said Libby Weir-Breen, a British travel operator who has been bringing tourists to the island, 1,200 miles (1,900 km) west of the African nation of Angola, for the last 12 years.
She had flown in specially from Scotland to be on the plane, and dabbed away tears as it touched down on the spectacular cliff-side runway. "I never thought I’d see this day," she said.
The 4,500 people living on St. Helena, a British colony since 1658 - most famous as the windswept outpost where French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte breathed his last - might also be forgiven for thinking the day would never come.
There has been talk of building an airport on St. Helena since the 1930s. The best site – one of the few flat spaces on the notoriously craggy island – was ruled out because of a nearby breeding ground for the wirebird, an endangered species of plover.
An airport at the new site, on top of a valley filled in with 8 million cubic metres of rock, suffered numerous setbacks and delays as costs ballooned to £285million, to the horror of the British government.
The runway and terminal were completed in 2016 but the official opening was pushed back another year after test flights were buffeted by wicked cross-winds, making it unsafe for large aircraft to use.
With Britain mired in financial austerity, the London media were quick to condemn it as a white elephant, or "the world’s most useless airport", with a price tag of more than 60,000 pounds for every Saint, as the island’s residents are known.
Before the opening of the airport, which will receive weekly flights to and from the South African commercial capital, the only way to St. Helena was a five-night voyage from Cape Town aboard the RMS St. Helena, a British postal ship.
With the risk of wind-shear limiting the size of planes and numbers of passengers – Saturday’s flight had room for 100 but only 68 on board due to weight restrictions – the hoped-for tourist boom is unlikely to materialise.
Hotel capacity has jumped in the last few years from just a few dozen rooms to more than 100, but, with a maximum of 3,500 visitors a year, the island is unlikely to be weaned off the 53 million pounds it receives in aid every year from London.