Farnborough ACP consultation: what TAG isn’t telling us

Some very interesting facts about the TAG Farnborough Airspace Change Proposal (ACP) emerged from the briefing hosted by Lasham Gliding Society on Sunday 23 March.

The GA Alliance has been very busy researching the background of the proposal, as the presentation made by Royal Aero Club Chairman Patrick Naegeli made clear to an audience of several hundred glider, and power pilots.

“As individuals, we need to concentrate on making considered, well-informed and rational input to the consultation,” cautioned Naegeli. His presentation was centred on the essential information, as were those made by representatives from the British Gliding Association, British Microlight Aircraft Association, Lasham and two other local airfields likely to be affected – Odiham and Goodwood. The Alliance’s noise consultant, Ian MacArthur highlighted the way this issue was presented “less than clearly” in TAG’s supporting documentation.

As BMAA Chief Executive Geoff Weighell pointed out, the CAA’s Airspace Charter states that ‘the needs of all stakeholders’ must be taken into account when designating airspace and, citing CAP 725 there should be ‘equitable access as per the [airspace] classification… Management by exclusion would not be acceptable.’

Declaring on its website that it is ‘dedicated exclusively to business aviation’, TAG Farnborough currently has just over 23,000 movements per year, the trend in recent years being flat. TAG predicts 27-28,000 movements by 2015 and 32,000 by 2019 – figures that, even if they are realised, are still well below the 50,000 the company had previously said would not require controlled airspace (CAS). Indeed, TAG traffic pales into insignificance against the 252,500 annual movements reported by the airfields in the vicinity of Farnborough that would be affected by the proposed airspace changes.

TAG Farnbrough’s operations are not Commercial Air Transport: approximately 45 per cent of movements are positioning and 55 per cent passenger carrying. On average, just over two passengers (characterised as ‘VVIPs’ in TAG’s promotional media) are carried on each flight to, or from the airfield.

TAG has been coy about arrival and departure profiles: independent analysis suggests that the bizjets using Farnborough currently fly in existing controlled airspace and only descend/climb through Class G very close to the airfield – for example, arrivals from the north only emerge in Class G close to Hook. Combined with a steeper than usual 3.5 degree approach, this actually constitutes efficient operation, along the lines of the ‘Performance-Based Navigation’ now favoured by NATS. It is something of a mystery that TAG should want to claim vast tranches of airspace at levels well below those currently used, or funnel its own arrivals/departures down the defined routes shown in the proposal, rather than continuing with pilot discretion - not least because of the noise implications for those living in Farnborough and the surrounding towns and villages.

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Is there any kind of safety case to be made, you might well ask? Perhaps not on the basis of the airprox data cited by Naegeli, which encompass just 69 events in the 609 square mile local area over the ten-year period 2003-2013. Interestingly, seven of these involved aircraft using the Farnborough radar service.

On the other hand, the proposal threatens to make VFR operations around Farnborough unduly hazardous. Pilots know how difficult it can be to get SVFR clearance to cut across Class D, something that is in any event impractical for gliders. Transponder traces show that the vast majority of private pilots route around CAS, typically keeping the altitude band of 2,000 to 2,500ft. TAG’s ACP would narrow the existing, well-documented VFR traffic ‘choke point’ between Heathrow and Southampton CAS to something like 4.5nm, hugely increasing the risk of collision and potentially blocking north-south traffic completely in poor weather.

Representatives from Lasham and Odiham-based RAFGSA Kestrel said their operations would be severely curtailed by the proposed CAS, glider competitions and South Downs ridge-soaring activities from Lasham becoming impossible. Goodwood sees the proposal as a serious threat to arrivals to its popular Festival of Speed and Revival events, as well as the viability of service providers based at the Sussex airfield.

In his closing remarks, Patrick Naegeli urged those present to make their views known in good time via the ACP website. The consultation closes on 2 May, after which TAG will present its interpretation of the response to the CAA (hard to believe, but this is standard practice). Respondents are urged to make their own comment and not ‘cut and paste’ words from elsewhere, which has led to objections being discounted in other consultation exercises. Finally, in the light of claims that respondents have been neglected or their returns misrepresented in past ACP consultations, the Alliance is offering to gather together as insurance individual ‘free format responses’ from power and glider pilots, which can be emailed to farnborough@gliding.co.uk