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June 2018
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Richard Mumford would resist the proposed closure of airfields for housing

News from BACA: The threat to our airfields

Short term thinking is rarely productive in the long term. Sometimes we have to take quick decisions, but most of the time we do at least have the chance to step back and think about longer term consequences and objectives. Ideally, we do our strategic thinking in advance, then we are ready to move decisively when an appropriate oppor- tunity arises.

So when we were approached by the publisher of EBAN and Charter Broker magazines to work with them on ACE17, we were able to take a quick decision on something that clearly fits with our long-term aims.

Our collaboration in the organisation of ACE17 perfectly complements our strategy of building value in BACA and providing a range of benefits to our members and the air charter market. When we first became involved with ACE we saw it as a three-year project to help build up the event and to tailor it to the air charter broking market. However, we have seen great progress in year one with an exciting array of sponsors, aircraft and events lined up that should provide real interest to our members and to the wider market. I strongly encourage all market participants to register to attend. Happily, it is free of charge.

The making of quick decisions is not something of which many could accuse the UK's Department of Transport in the past decade. The building of a single additional runway in the south east of England seems to be stuck in an eternal loop that Escher would be proud of. However, there is a worrying trend towards closure of airfields more widely that could ultimately be a matter for long-term regret.

A massive increase in population and demand for housing, particularly in the south east of England, has led to pressure being put onto local authorities to find sites on which to build. Almost universally, the local populations object to proposals to build on any green field sites. Building on urban brown field sites is expensive because they need to be cleared before they can be built on. So where can local authorities find large swathes of largely untouched brown field land? Well, it would appear that airfields provide the answer, and so there are a large number under threat of being turned into housing estates.

Who cares? Ordinary members of the public do not generally own private aircraft and cannot afford to fly in them, so really they are just a noise nuisance to the local residents. Politically, rich people in aircraft are not a priority. Housing is.

Does it matter? Many of these airfields are struggling for investment and have plenty of capacity. Surely the aircraft can just fly along to the next one and roost among the gently rusting hangars at the gradually decreasing poolside of capacity.

There are reasons why it might prove to be premature to build over the nation's airfields. First, the introduction of SET ops could lead to a wider market for commercial aircraft use, including a larger pool of flying customers and a wider selection of available flight pairs, runways and airfields.

Second, the papers are full of stories about a new generation of flying cars, drone taxis and mass delivery vehicles. It is naive to think that these are just pipe dreams. These aircraft will be flying in the next 20 years, and when they do we might regret losing the airfield capacity that would allow for safe take-offs and landings.

As members of the aviation community, while we have to acknowledge that not every airfield is financially viable all of the time, it would be foolish to collapse the capacity without proper consideration of the long-term development of aviation. Richard Mumford, chairman, BACA


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