Thursday, November 06, 2014

‘Safety threat’ fears over loss of airport

The loss of the Blackpool Airport could pose a “threat to safety” pilots have warned as official figures reveal the number of emergency landings made by aircraft at the terminal.

A number of emergency landings were made on the more than mile long runway in recent years, including a Red Arrow diverting to the Fylde coast in an emergency, attended by both the airport’s own fire crews as well as Lancashire Fire and Rescue and Lancashire Police.

A Freedom of Information request by The Gazette to Lancashire Police revealed officers attended a number of incidents at the Squires Gate Lane hub, as well as call-outs made for extra help from fire crews to deal with problems.

In one instance an aircraft was forced to land on the strip after its cockpit filled with smoke while passengers had to evacuate a jet after smoke was seen pouring from the plane as it landed.

On June 6 this year the captain of flight LS740 from Alicante was advised to evacuate the flight as a precautionary measure after Blackpool Airport air traffic control spotted smoke coming from the brakes on landing.

Now pilots have said the loss of the airfield could pose a threat to airliners which can come into difficulties in the skies over the Fylde coast.

Paul Wane, a private pilot who used to work for Fly Blackpool, said: “The bottom line is that Blackpool could be used, when it was active, as a diversionary airfield for aircraft that were in trouble.

“The fact is that it is no longer a licensed airfield, and also the fact there is no emergency services there to help aircraft that may require help. This means that pilots or larger aircraft may try to seek an airfield that has got these – it could extend the problem and create a safety issue.

“The fact Blackpool Airport is now closed means an aircraft would have to fly longer to find an airfield with emergency services available.

“It may be a hazard to life.”

And Robert Murgatroyd, CEO of Fly Blackpool, added: “It would be a safety concern.”

The famous Red Arrows, which attract thousands to Blackpool with acrobatic displays every summer, have been forced to make emergency landings at the airport too.

In August 2011 one of the aircraft had to make a swift landing after colliding with a bird, prompting fire and ambulance crews to race to the airfield.

In February 2011 a Lynx helicopter’s engine failed five miles from the airfield and emergency teams were scrambled, and in May of that year an aircraft made an emergency landing in Blackpool after reporting problems with its undercarriage.

The following month a twin engine aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing after having to shut down one engine. In April 2012 an aircraft reported problems with its nose wheel while landing.

In June 2013 full emergency response procedure was also followed as a light aircraft got into difficulty, but the crews were stood down after the plane landed safely.

In August of this year, fire crews were called as a precautionary measure after the pilot of a small aircraft reported smoke in the cockpit of his plane.

Airport bosses Balfour Beatty officially closed the airport on October 15 after a buyer to save it at the 11th hour could not be found, ending 100 years of aviation history in the resort.

Balfour Beatty said the terminal was losing an estimated £1.5m a year. The demise of the commercial airport left 100 jobs in the balance.

Yesterday Fylde MP Mark Menzies warned potential buyers have only a six-week window to firm up any offers for the airfield before the assets of the airport start to be sold off.

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