Big Gin Hill evictions
Pilot was copied in to correspondence between reader Mike Grant and Will Curtis, Managing Director of Biggin Hill airfield
It seems that the end of Biggin Hill as a respected training airfield is in sight. Surrey & Kent, Allouette, and EFG’S leases have been cancelled; they have been given six months’ notice to leave, and training ceases forthwith. I suspect that the associated maintenance and support businesses are also at grave risk of becoming unviable, or will be similarly evicted to make space for even more bizjets and helicopters. BHAL is happy to benefit from those commercial pilots who financed their own training at Biggin, but now denies the next generation of potential pilots the opportunity to gain their licences and ratings at what was a first-class airfield. Very selfish!
These training and support organisations go back many decades there, and it would be well to remind BHAL management that it was largely the training organisations, clubs and private owners that sustained EGKB during the last financial crisis. Without them, can Biggin Hill survive the next one? Or will it become a graveyard for redundant bizjets, just as it became a bizjet parking lot during the last episode? It seems that the prospect of having the income from up to 50,000 business aircraft movements per year has seduced BHAL management, to the extent that it will leave no stone unturned to maximise that income, no matter how many businesses are trampled in the process. This is hardly a sustainable business model.
Even with the revised noise abatement procedures, and noise monitoring, the replacement of some 30,000 training movements per year by jets and turbine powered helicopters is sure to impact the local community. Is this what the local population was expecting when the planning authority agreed BHAL’S changes to operating hours? ‘Long standing Biggin Hill private pilot’
Mike Grant: As a UK ATPL pilot, I am writing to you about issues I feel I need to raise: •
Your campaign to have Northolt declared unsafe for civilian flights, the objective being to have most of the current business revenue from corporate jets diverted to Biggin Hill as a viable alternative. •
Your decision to close down the few remaining flying schools at Biggin Hill as you think that they negatively impact on your plans.
In both instances, it would appear that your motivation is to help achieve bigger growth in Biggin Hill airport’s revenue.
Addressing… flying school activity at Biggin Hill, it has been shown time and again (the USA is a perfect example) that light aircraft can happily coexist with commercial traffic. I have flown out of a number of big airfields in the USA including Orange County, where they have frequent scheduled passenger traffic all day, and there is never a problem. Even ATC at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) permits flights at right angles to the main runway whilst jets take off below.
The relatively minor traffic from the flying schools can easily fit in with your current and projected business movements, especially if landing and takeoff priority is given to commercial traffic. In your five year plan you forecast a maximum of 50,000 movements per year. Assuming only twelve operational hours per day, that is no more than eleven movements per hour or one every 5½ minutes – and your traffic is nowhere near that figure. The flying schools do not interfere with your ability to operate bizjet traffic, you clearly just regard them as an unnecessary nuisance, forgetting your own roots in GA and your previous career as a pilot.
For you, the revenue from the flying schools is probably relatively minor but does not impact negatively on your revenue projections if you were to keep them, and you could certainly still find office space and movement slots for them if you wished to. All pilots start off as PPLS and these schools provide a much needed start if we are to have a good supply of commercial pilots in the future; I myself learned to fly at High Wycombe and Biggin Hill and it was that experience that helped me to qualify with an airline pilot’s licence. Shouldn’t we continue to encourage the private pilot, the future source of our commercial pilots?
I have never flown in or out of Northolt Airport, but we have enough NIMBY enemies without our own community trying to close airports down. There should be a code of chivalry/good conduct amongst pilots, not ‘dog eat dog’.
I doubt that anything I have said will make any difference to your opinion or course of action, but I do hope that you will think again and recognise that you can achieve your aims of improved business revenue without killing off the flying schools and/or Northolt. These decisions affect real people and will negatively impact on livelihoods and new pilots, as well as speed up the demise of GA and the closing of yet more airfields. Airfields should be treated as a community asset, not just for private jets for the wealthy – local flying schools help foster an interest in GA and support for the facilities. In the USA and many countries in Europe they are treated as an integral community asset. You can achieve your business goals without a scorched earth policy that negatively impacts everyone else.
Will Curtis: Like you, I am an ATPL with experience in many varied types from business jet to light aircraft and ran various UK and overseas business jet operations before joining Biggin Hill Airport. The two main issues you raise in your email are both driven by safety considerations: •
In the case of RAF Northolt, the aerodrome is not safe for use by civil registered aircraft because of the existence of numerous near-field obstacles that are not adequately promulgated in the UK AIP. We have campaigned simply to have the same standards applied at RAF Northolt as are applied to civil aerodromes. We understand that, as a direct result of our intervention, proper Type A charts will now be available in respect of UK Military Aerodromes ‘notified’ in the UK AIP for civil use. •
In the case of light aviation here at Biggin Hill, the issue is one of keeping the jets separated from light aircraft in such a manner that the TCAS systems do not create false alerts which then result in TCAS driven ‘level busts’ as jet traffic responds to a TCAS Resolution Advisory. Both NATS and the CAA have asked us to look at this problem and to find ways to reduce the frequency of these events. Additionally, at peak times controller workload has approached unacceptable levels and needs to be reduced. In fact, contrary to your suggestion that our decision is revenue driven, it will cost us a great deal of revenue to drop such a large volume [of] light aviation, but the safety of those using the airport and those that live and work around the airport must come before any other consideration.
Your remaining points were all carefully considered by us before we reached this difficult decision… to reduce the volume of light aviation at the airport. Nevertheless, we remain committed to retaining a considerable volume of light aviation in contrast to other London airports, which have effectively excluded light aviation entirely. The changes… at Biggin Hill are part of a wider response to the runway capacity squeeze now increasingly affecting London. As the larger airports force out business aviation, more business aviation traffic will use airports convenient to London such as Biggin Hill and Farnborough. As the Airport’s Commission put it in its Interim Report, airports such as Biggin Hill will have to ‘take some of the strain’. This will, of course, bring pressure to bear on light aviation [which] should not, therefore, be surprised by this development and indeed, we have been telling our resident flying schools for the last three years that Biggin Hill does not have a long term future in high volume, low cost, flight training.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us.
Mike Grant: Thank you for taking the time to reply. •
False positives on TCAS are a red herring, because virtually all the bizjet traffic comes down the ILS under radar control and the flying school and other light aircraft traffic are kept out of that flight path (joining at known VFR points, then dead side/overhead to join the circuit). An appropriate transponder squawk would sort that out; if airports such as Stansted and North Weald can coexist on that basis then so can Biggin Hill. Aircraft within the London TMA will always get TCAS alerts irrespective, and as the IFR traffic is under positive radar control this really should not be an issue. The planning document on which you based your bid for longer operating hours did not mention banning flying training, merely intending to reduce the level of noise: replacing it with more bizjet traffic will not reduce noise but likely increase it.
As you operate a PPR requirement, you have the means to reduce ATC workload, and the average maximum movements/ hour (per your planning document) is not that challenging nor insurmountable. •
Your contention that you have made Northolt safer could have been done with some friendly suggestions, whereas you and Oxford Airport took the unprecedented legal route of trying to close down all civilian operations at Northolt with the avowed intention of benefiting from that. I do not think that your actions were altruistic and based solely on safety concerns; they very much appear to be based upon other less worthy motives.
We will have to disagree; it is a great pity that you have decided to take the course of action that you have… people deserve better. Mike Grant commented to Pilot: As expected, I got no joy with Mr Curtis who used disingenuous arguments that do not stand up to scrutiny. He quoted safety and the need for more business capacity in the south-east and how he was in effect performing a national service. I think not!