Report blasts air safety in the skies

AIRCRAFT in the skies over Norfolk are facing "unacceptable risks" because air-traffic services at Norwich airport are "not as effective or efficient" as they should be, a report has revealed.

AIRCRAFT in the skies over Norfolk are facing "unacceptable risks" because air-traffic services at Norwich airport are "not as effective or efficient" as they should be, a report has revealed.

The skies above Norwich International saw 68 "conflicts", some involving military jets, and five "near-misses" in the past three years.

The airport claims the problem has been exacerbated since the closure of RAF Coltishall and wants a 25-mile controlled airspace to prevent the threat of potentially fatal collisions.

Pilots in the eastern region have the freedom to fly wherever they choose, as long as they stick to Civil Aviation Authority rules and keep away from military zones and airports.

The airport monitors an area of two-and-a-half miles and a height of 2,000ft around the airport, which it believes is insufficient when it handled 48,000 flights in the past year. Instructions to pilots to take immediate evasive action have become routine.

A consultation document on the controlled airspace proposal states: "The increased traffic density as a whole throughout the airspace within which Norwich air-traffic control provides service means that the air-traffic service provided by Norwich International airport is not as efficient or effective as it should be and the overall level of risk has increased.

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"The need for Norwich airport traffic to be given extended routing or delay to avoid military and other activity has become more routine over the whole of the service area. Most critically, the need for avoiding action, particularly in the critical stages of flight, has increased."

It adds that legitimate military training involving loitering, high- energy manoeuvres and "simulated ground-attack profiles" have "increased significantly" in the Norwich International area in the past two years.

"Empirical evidence shows that an unacceptable number of conflicts occur, or have the potential to occur."

The controlled airspace would cover almost 300sq miles and impact on numerous small airfields as well as flights from RAF Marham and USAF airbases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath.

It would also affect the use of gliders, microlights and hang gliders.

A letter sent to consultees - including MPs, councils, flying clubs, airstrips and aerodromes - states that pilots have had to take "avoiding action" and there is a "potential impact on flight safety".

Consultee John Cowan, a parish councillor from Barnham Broom, said the issue was "extremely concerning".

"Airspace users need to be reassured that Norwich air-traffic control services are fit for purpose. Near-misses involving airspace users should be in the public domain."

The airport's managing director Elliott Summers insisted that current airport operations are safe.

"As we plan for growth, safety margins become more challenged and it is incumbent upon the airport as responsible air-traffic service providers to ensure when that passenger growth arrives it can be delivered safely by planning for the event right now.

"Airport operations are currently safe and the provision of controlled airspace will ensure that safety is maintained in the future during what will hopefully be busier times."

A final decision on the proposal will be made by the Civil Aviation Authority after the consultation ends in mid-July.

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