Runway on small Atlantic island reopens with landing of a large Boeing C-17 plane

Photo: USAF

After a year of work, the Ascension Island auxiliary aerodrome recently resumed flight operations with the opening of the eastern part of the runway and the landing of the first aircraft on the newly paved surface on 31 August. The inaugural flight was made by a Boeing C-17, a large military freighter, from the United States.

“This significant milestone demonstrates the commitment, hard work, effective leadership, and multi-stakeholder collaboration to provide robust infrastructure to sustain Air Force missions.”said Lieutenant Colonel Gary Moore of the AFCEC Directorate of Facilities Engineering.

The total project, which amounts to US$309 million, is an investment jointly financed by the US and UK governments. Construction now moves to phase three of the project – the west side of the runway.

The remote British-owned island supports military missions and commercial flights, serving as an outpost between South America and Africa for the US and UK Air Forces.

Since February 2022, Major Harrizon Sanchez, AFCEC project manager, has led the work on site and successfully led the first half of the track construction to the finish line.

“It took a concerted effort with our mission partners to solve many critical challenges and achieve many milestones over the past six months to get this project halfway done.” said Sanchez.

Captain Corey Pinsonneault, training officer and aircraft commander for the 21st Airlift Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California, was in control of a C-17 Globemaster III, the first aircraft to land on Ascension’s newly paved runway.

“The runway looked very good and was smooth during landing”said the captain. “The crew and I had to make two low passes to check the airfield for the Federal Aviation Administration flight inspector who was on board, so I got a great look at the airfield. It looks great overall and will be even better when the full length is opened up again.”

The C-17 is one of the few aircraft in the world capable of flying the distance to Ascension and then landing and taking off on the available runway length, Pinsonneault said.

“We currently have to make a fuel stop after takeoff to fly back to the US or even most of Europe due to the shortened runway length.“, he said. “Once scaled up to full size, you will start to see many other types of aircraft landing on Ascension and can depart directly to your final destination without needing a fuel stop in between, saving time and money for everyone involved.”

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