Construction of the first airport on the British island of St Helena in the South Atlantic has moved a step closer with the shortlisting of three bid teams.

The airport will change life on the island, which found fame as Napoleon’s final place of exile. It is 1,250 miles from the nearest landmass, and is visited only by a Royal Mail boat from Cape Town, South Africa, which takes five days to get there.

The teams shortlisted to build the airport are each led by a civil engineering contractor and include an international engineering firm. They are:

  • South African contractor Basil Read with Mott MacDonald
  • Northern Irish contractor Lagan with Halcrow
  • Italian contractor Impregilo with Jacobs.

The consortiums visited the 50 square mile island last week with the Department for International Development, which is acting as client for the airport.

The winner will build a 1.4 mile runway and associated facilities. Bids must be submitted by the end of November.

The governor has unveiled plans for a tenfold increase in tourists to the island of St Helena

Last month Michael Clancy, the governor of the island, unveiled plans for a tenfold increase in the tourists visiting the island, from 1,000 a year to 10,000.

Clancy said the arrival of the airport would transform the economy, making tourism the main industry. When flights start, the Royal Mail link will end.

Construction is due to begin next year and should be completed by 2012.