PTT, Dave Un­win

Pilot - - CONTENTS -

Threats to air­field devel­op­ment and airspace grabs con­tinue to abound

Christ­mas aka The Feast of Satur­na­lia usu­ally pro­duces a good haul of in­ter­est­ing books at stately Un­win Manor, and this year two ab­so­lute crack­ers turned up: Am­brose Bierce’s wickedly waspish The Devil’s Dic­tionary and that time­less tome on po­lit­i­cal de­cep­tion and treach­ery, Nic­colo Machi­avelli’s The Prince. Machi­avelli’s mas­ter­piece is prob­a­bly re­quired read­ing for mod­ern civil ser­vants, and I won­der if per­haps those bu­reau­crats and eu­ro­crats who work within Gen­eral Avi­a­tion even have to pass an exam on it! Take for ex­am­ple the as­ton­ish­ing lev­els of du­plic­ity, dou­ble­s­peak and down­right dis­hon­esty in­volved in a Gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment from 2006 called Plan­ning Pol­icy Guide­lines 3, which re­cently re­turned to haunt GA. In this doc­u­ment, a sub-sec­tion called Plan­ning Pol­icy State­ment 3 (PPS3) in­cluded a small change that di­rectly af­fected air­fields. The def­i­ni­tion of ‘brown­field’ had been rewrit­ten to in­clude air­fields, and all the land within the cur­tilage (the sur­round­ing area), in­stead of them be­ing ‘green­field’. As the Gov­ern­ment clearly (and rightly) favours brown­field devel­op­ment, this change pre­sented a threat to air­fields.

How­ever, within the con­text of this def­i­ni­tion a foot­note to PPG3 made it clear that, while all of the land within the cur­tilage of a site is also de­fined as ‘pre­vi­ously de­vel­oped’, there was an im­por­tant ex­cep­tion. This stated that ‘where the foot­print of a build­ing only oc­cu­pies a pro­por­tion of a site of which the re­main­der is open land (such as an air­field or hos­pi­tal) the whole site should not nor­mally be de­vel­oped to the bound­ary of the cur­tilage.’ Con­se­quently, as any air­field only has a rel­a­tively small frac­tion of land that’s had build­ings on it the en­tire site should not be con­sid­ered as pre­vi­ously de­vel­oped land. How­ever, when the draft of PPS3 was pub­lished, it did not in­clude this crit­i­cal foot­note, and when chal­lenged the Gov­ern­ment ad­mit­ted that the clause de­tail­ing the spe­cial pro­tec­tion af­forded to air­fields had been in­ad­ver­tently dropped from the new guide­lines draft due to an ‘edit­ing er­ror’. Hav­ing been found out, the Gov­ern­ment in­di­cated that the miss­ing clause would be ‘added into a re­vised edi­tion’, but it never was.

This could have se­ri­ous ram­i­fi­ca­tions for UK GA, as this ‘edit­ing er­ror’ clearly in­creases an air­field’s at­trac­tive­ness to de­vel­op­ers, and you won’t be sur­prised to learn that sev­eral of the four­teen new ‘gar­den vil­lages’ re­cently an­nounced will be sited on air­fields. The last Pi­lot- in­spired (and seem­ingly for­got­ten) ‘air­fields not brown­fields’ pe­ti­tion raised 30,000 sig­na­tures in protest. Now there’s a new pe­ti­tion re­gard­ing this sorry saga: you may wish to con­sider sign­ing it.

I doubt that Am­brose Bierce (who de­scribed pol­i­tics as ‘the con­duct of pub­lic af­fairs for pri­vate ad­van­tage’) ever thought you could use the word ‘pause’ to de­scribe a pe­riod of three years, but this April it will be that long since the ATC’S sailplane fleet was grounded and glid­ing for cadets ‘paused’. Un­sur­pris­ingly, many VGS units have now closed and in­ter­est­ingly, some of the air­fields they were based on will now be dis­posed of, and then de­vel­oped un­der the leg­is­la­tion in PPS3. It’s hard not to sus­pect a sin­is­ter syn­ergy be­tween gov­ern­ment and big busi­ness, for as well as seiz­ing air­fields vested in­ter­ests con­tinue to grab great chunks of airspace just as greed­ily. TAG are ea­ger to con­trol a vast swathe of sky around Farn­bor­ough, many small air­ports still call for grotesquely huge con­trol zones far big­ger than they need, some mil­i­tary con­trollers are be­gin­ning to treat their MATZS as if they were Class D and RMZS con­tinue to pro­lif­er­ate. The com­mon link here is comms, for the great 8.33 scan­dal so elo­quently dis­sected by Pat Malone last month is an­other fine ex­am­ple of the sort of Machi­avel­lian machi­na­tions that would’ve made old Nic­colo proud. Be­ing made to buy some­thing we do not want or need is right out of Yes, Min­is­ter — there are prob­a­bly more GA move­ments an­nu­ally in Cal­i­for­nia alone than the whole of Europe, yet the FAA has not made the car­riage of trans­ceivers ca­pa­ble of 8.33 spac­ing manda­tory.

The bit about ‘spec­trum pric­ing’ was par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est­ing, and although Of­com’s ar­gu­ment held about as much wa­ter as a sec­ond-hand sieve, one area where pric­ing could be used as a lever is airspace al­lo­ca­tion. If TAG Farn­bor­ough had to pay rent on ev­ery cu­bic mile of air that it wanted to con­trol, I’m sure it’d soon learn to man­age with a lot less!

The root cause of many of GA’S prob­lems is that, as Pat pointed out, too many of the rules are not made by ex­perts — and that’s wor­ry­ing. It used to be gen­er­ally ac­cepted that although you were en­ti­tled to your own opin­ions, you were not en­ti­tled to your own facts. How­ever, in a world of post-truth pol­i­tics where ex­perts are rou­tinely dis­re­spected (re­mem­ber Michael Gove’s out­ra­geous com­ment?) many peo­ple seem to think that they are en­ti­tled to their own facts, and that some­thing is ac­tu­ally true as long as they be­lieve it to be true. And if they’ve read it on the in­ter­net, they be­lieve it to be true! This is very dan­ger­ous. Ever heard of the Dun­ning-kruger ef­fect? Es­sen­tially, it states that the more stupid a per­son is, the more con­fi­dent they are that they’re not ac­tu­ally that stupid. And there are an aw­ful lot of stupid peo­ple out there!

This is a some­what darker and gloomier PTT than usual — I think that per­haps my mood is mir­ror­ing the sky. But high pres­sure is build­ing, I’m duty tug pi­lot to­mor­row and there’s an air­craft to test later in the week! Let’s just hope that in 2027 there are still air­fields for sport avi­a­tors to fly from, and airspace to fly through.

The def­i­ni­tion of ‘brown­field’ had been rewrit­ten to in­clude air­fields Sus­pect a sin­is­ter syn­ergy be­tween gov­ern­ment and big busi­ness?

DAVE UN­WIN Pi­lot’s Flight Test Ed­i­tor op­er­ates a Jodel D.9 from a farm strip and has logged stick-time on ev­ery­thing from ul­tra­lights to fast jets

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