|Runway repairs underway at Cambridge Airport|
Amazing how technology can conspire to trip you up. Julian Bray who during his career has advised three airlines, and at one time held full airside passes for both Gatwick (British Island Airways) and Heathrow (Alitalia), had a call from BBC Cambridgeshire, late last night.
They had put together a neat package on a series of allegations concerning Cambridge Airport. [CBG] for the chosen ones BBC CAMBS Bigger Breakfast Show. Always impressed how the young Paul Stainton can effortlessly switch from jovial breakfast host to a Robin Day incarnation, without even drawing breath, every weekday morning from 6am.
The package centred on allegations from whistle blowers, ex-employees etc., over a whole catalogue of issues surrounding the operation of passenger services and the capability of the airstrip to handle it all. Currently 8 movements or 4 slots ( four slots a day = a slot is one take off and one landing) out of "Marshalls".
I called it on air "Daft, they should stick to what they know" Either Marshalls is a state of the art MOD & Civil aircraft maintenance facility or a passenger airport. Which is it? The two in my view sit uncomfortably together as the temptation always is to increase the passenger throughput currently 10,000 per annum, and to treble the number of slots... revenue generation, pure and simple.
The plot is however limited by runway length, so its good for regional not long haul aircraft. It is a crying shame that the Alconbury site was not jumped on once the USAF moved out. One of the longest pristine runways in the UK and ideally placed. Property men have however since grabbed it, how asleep is this Government?
At Cambridge, they've bolted on passenger services in between military Hercules and Jet fighters arriving for their 'MOTs' and taking off. One of the former workers pointed to staff shortages, poor training, slabs of tarmac lifting in the wake of fanjets taking off, also backed up by documents, and a few CAA (AIRMISS) Airprox reports. All sounded pretty dire, until you drill down.
Broken 40 year old Radar. Would have been a problem a few years ago, but the airport is basically in transition from analogue to digital - has satellite GPS (ADS-B) systems and ILS. In any case they only have control over a 2 mile radius from the runway. Controllers also physically look out of windows too.
CAMBRIDGE is after all a small airport with just 10 thousand passengers a year going through it, so I wouldn't really class it as a regional airport, more a City style airport.
Nearby London Stansted is however a proper regional airport, it handled 1.8 million passengers in May alone! Indeed thinking about radar; the scanner at Heathrow, no longer spins round, having been decommissioned a few years back, but its too expensive to dismantle it ....
The BBC Cambs report then goes into staff shortages at peak Summer Times and the revoiced whistle blower says he wouldn't advise his friends using the facility, pointing out that the runway is overdue for replacement.
The poor state of the runway? The TV helicopter shot showed a marked of area and frankly the runway is more than wide enough. In fact I'd be more worried about the distant landing airports during the peak Summer months.
Here in the UK we have the Civil Aviation Authority - CAA. A light touch aviation regulator, which is often mistaken for being soft. It isn't. Transgress CAA regulations and its not just a warning notice and a possible sanction, but also has dire international consequences in terms of breaking insurance bonds and aircraft lease conditions which sit on the back of the CAA and international regulatory framework.
The much vaunted ABTA bond or guarantee, is actually a 100% CAA operation, your inclusive tour airline goes bust then its the CAA that physically gets you home again.
So the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Report? Its a welcome keenly researched wake up call to small airport and airfield operators everywhere. We need more whistle blowers like this, to step up and keep the suits and beancounters in check. That means everyone of us. So if you spot something, take pictures, video and notes. Make an issue of it.
On May 30th, one single day some 18 Airprox (Airmiss) reports were published, see them on www.airproxboard.org.uk
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