Pilot’s fears over Norwich Airport airspace plan

Norwich International Airport will increase the length of its airspace by 600pc, prompting warnings that the tranquillity of the Broads could be disturbed.

The airport said the flying zone, which will stretch 50 miles from Dereham to the outskirts of Great Yarmouth, had to be regulated to improve passengers' safety.

But one former RAF pilot said that he feared the risk of collisions would increase at bottlenecks on the edge of the zone, as planes would avoid crossing it.

The huge expansion in airspace means planes will have to contact air traffic control when flying up to 5,000 feet in an area covering Norwich city centre and villages to the north including Coltishall, Swannington and the Broads areas of Wroxham and Salhouse.

Aircraft in an outer area covering much of the Broads will have to contact air traffic control when flying between 1,500 and 5,000 feet.

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Former RAF pilot Pete Birch, 49, who now flies out of Ludham, claimed light aircraft pilots would be tempted to fly beneath the air zone at below 1,500 feet to avoid contacting air traffic control.

A report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) warns this could disturb the peace of the Broads.

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The report read: 'If any traffic chooses to alter their route to fly beneath the new airspace, there is the potential that they may have an impact upon both tranquillity and visual intrusion.'

Mr Birch, who served in the RAF for 22 years, feared the airspace would also create bottlenecks on the edge of the zone, known as funnels, as pilots avoided air traffic control.

'It is the law of unintended consequences,' he said. 'Pilots will nearly always try to keep clear of the airspace. It will create funnels where they will fly.'

He identified North Walsham, where he lives, as one area in which funnels were likely to be created.

North Walsham county councillor Paul Morse said: 'We have got to trust the experts and have to hope the CAA have got it right.

'Clearly safety is paramount, but the last thing we want is tranquillity disturbed.'

But while critics accused the airport of a vanity project, Richard Pace, its operations director, said it was needed to improve safety.

He added: 'I am pleased that the CAA have accepted the case made to increase the amount of airspace protection for Norwich International Airport.

'We feel there will be no discernible change in the air traffic patterns around the airport.'

The report from CAA director Mark Swan supported the airport's safety argument.

It said air traffic controllers often had to re-route or delay planes over the city where, at the moment, there was only a very limited fly zone about eight miles long.

Mr Swan said in giving the bid the go-ahead he had to weigh up the needs of protecting commercial flights while letting other aircraft use the skies.

He said air traffic control staff were having to make 'tactical interventions' to keep the skies above Norwich safe and in busy flight periods there was uncertainty.

The CAA report said the mixture of aircraft made Norwich unique in the UK, with hot-air balloons, gliders, micro-lights, light aircraft, helicopters and military jets all competing for space.

There were 17 near-misses – known as airprox – from 2006 to 2011 around the area, which added to the workload of air traffic controllers.

And the uncertainty over Norwich's skies led to aircraft flying an extra 240 miles, emitting between six and 18 extra tonnes of carbon dioxide. Mr Pace said: 'The general aviation community have the perception that they will not be allowed access because that has happened elsewhere.'

But he assured other aircraft users they would be allowed in if they had a radio.

Aircraft without radios will have to get clearance before they fly.

Mr Swan added: 'A lot of hard work has been put into this proposal.

'Norwich Airport has engaged extensively with all stakeholders and the CAA would encourage this dialogue to continue for the benefit of all airspace users.'

The controlled airspace will be in place from March 8. The CAA will then review it after a year.


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