PTT, Dave Unwin
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 you.gov 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?