Big Gin Hill evic­tions

Pi­lot was copied in to correspond­ence be­tween reader Mike Grant and Will Curtis, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Big­gin Hill air­field

Pilot - - AIRMAIL -

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!

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