Hampshire airport's extension plans will increase Winchester air traffic

Basingstoke Gazette: This diagram shows the areas that will be affected by the plans This diagram shows the areas that will be affected by the plans

A HAMPSHIRE airport has sparked controversy by pursuing ambitious expansion plans which would add to air-traffic over Winchester if they go ahead.

TAG Farnborough Airport - largely used for business and VIP jets - began a public consultation in February ahead of submitting its Airspace Change Proposal to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

But those fighting the plans says they would see its controlled airspace increase to almost twice the size of Gatwick’s, with low altitude flights over towns and villages.

Planes bound for other airports would be forced to take longer flight paths to avoid it.

Currently there are 25,000 flights in and out of Farnborough a year, but permission is in place to increase that number to 50,000 until 2019.

If the proposals go ahead, towns across Hampshire, Dorset and West Sussex, including the east of Winchester, Alresford and the Itchen Valley, would face an sharp rise in the number of aircrafts.

The public consultation lasts until May 2, and many residents and politicians are up in arms about how best to tackle the issue – which some say could see the collision risk rise seven-fold.

Steve Brine, MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford, said he is working closely with neighbouring MPs, gliding clubs and the Department for Transport to find out what the proposal means for his constituency.

“Opponents of the proposals have described them as a ‘land grab of the skies’ and when you consider TAG is reportedly applying for approximately twice the volume of controlled airspace that London Gatwick Airport uses to handle just over 34 million passengers per year, you can see their point,” he said.

“As ever, it’s important we understand the facts of what’s being proposed here and drill right into the detail, something more important than ever in this case given the technical nature of the consultation which is not that accessible to anyone without some level of aviation knowledge.

“For-instance, we need to know exactly the space covered by what’s known as area ‘C’ and pin-down the minimum altitude levels which are key to the impact for those of us on the ground.”

However, it would seem the online consultation has caused confusion.

Jon Bastin, pilot of 40 years and spokesman for the Lasham Gliding Club based in Alton, the largest of its kind in the world, said it doesn’t inform people sufficiently.

“The general point is that is that they have produced this major so-called technical document – it’s not a technical document, it’s an art form in misdirection and misinformation which misleads people,” he said.

“The analogy is that this is the equivalent of a private limousine company commandeering two lanes of the M25 motorway for its own exclusive use.”

Mr Bastin said the current gap between the Gatwick/Heathrow and Southampton airspaces is 26 miles but under the proposal would be reduced to five, effectively shunting traffic elsewhere, creating a bottleneck and increasing the collision risk seven fold.

It will also create a sharp corner over Petersfield, which Mr Bastin described as “killer corner”.

The gliding club has recently set up a campaign team against the proposals, and spokesman Bill Bullimore said they are doing everything they can to see it overthrown.

“It’s dangerous,” he said.

“It’s like having a brick wall on one side.

“Ninety of our members have sent letters of objection to their MPs. This could be a death knell for Lasham, and the control could stop us from holding the European Gliding Championships in 2017.”

Roger Walker, director of airport operations at TAG Farnborough Airport said: “The environment is of prime importance to TAG Farnborough Airport and we are committed to reducing noise in and around the airport.

“The proposed airspace design would offer all airspace users predictability and consistency of operations, leading to further reductions in noise and CO2 emissions.

“It is also set to improve efficiency and enhance safety.”

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