A gang of thieves targeting aircraft engines across the region have struck again - this time causing more than £100,000 worth of damage.
Criminals bypassed CCTV cameras and alarms before making off with six Rotax engines from microlights at an airfield near Norfolk on Friday night.
It comes just days after an aircraft belonging to a hobby pilot from Sprowston, near Norwich, was stripped apart by thieves.
The latest raid, at Sutton Meadows Airfield, near Ely in Cambridgeshire, targeted six aircraft and has affected two flight schools operating there.
A number of tools and spare parts were also stolen in what has been described as a “fairly professional” hit.
David Broom, who runs Airplay Aviation at the airfield, said his business had to be put on hold after his microlight’s engine was taken.
He added: “They obviously knew exactly what they wanted, where to cut and what bits were important, so it was a fairly professional operation.
“As a flight instructor this time of year is tough anyway, but to now have no income stream is very difficult.”
Five flex-wing microlights and one fixed-wing aircraft were targeted.
As with the raid at a hangar near Needham on Sunday 22, thieves stole six Rotax 912 engines.
Cambridgeshire Police, which is now investigating, said it was also looking at other similar crimes across the region.
According to the British Microlight Aircraft Association, there had been at least 10 known cases in the past year, with the majority taking place in the East of England.
Steve Slater, chief executive of the Light Aircraft Association, said criminals were very “clinical” in their approach.
In regard to security, he added: “We are working with police, and they say don’t just have CCTV pointing towards your plane, but also have CCTV on the access roads. We will contact aircraft owners to make sure they are vigilante and to enhance their security systems.”
It is believed the engines are taken overseas by criminal gangs for use on other aircraft.
A police spokesman said the theft took place overnight between Friday, January 27 and Saturday 28.
Sprowston pilot left devastated after becoming the latest victim of gang targeting aircraft in East Anglia
Inside the cockpit with the instruments removed
The hunt is on today for a prolific gang that is stealing aircraft engines from hobby pilots across the region.
In the latest case, a Norfolk man had his plane taken apart by the thieves, who caused £40,000 of damage.
Nick Harper said the engine, propeller and instruments were stolen from his microlight on Sunday night while it was stored in a remote hangar, near Needham.
The 57-year-old, from Sprowston, said £40,000 was the likely bill for replacement of parts and a refit.
According to the British Microlight Aircraft Association, it is the latest in a string of thefts across the country targeting aircraft engines.
The organization said there had been at least 10 known cases in the past year, with the majority taking place in the East of England.
Mr. Harper, who works as a self-employed mechanic in Norwich, is now warning other aircraft owners to ensure their hangars are secure.
He said: “I was devastated when I saw what they had done to be quite honest. I work hard for this hobby and now someone has taken it all away.
“It is all insured, so in the long run it won’t cost me, but there is a mental cost, because you know what these people have done.”
The thieves stole a Rotax 912 four-stroke engine and propeller from the front of Mr. Harper’s Pegasus CTSW ultralight aircraft.
Mr. Harper, who has held a pilot’s license for 17 years, said he bought it in 2009 and flew it almost every weekend.
He had been at the airstrip earlier on the Sunday to carry out some work, and had put the aircraft back in its hangar before leaving.
But on Monday he was contacted to say that someone had got into the hangar overnight by removing some of the building’s metal sheeting.
Mr. Harper said the thieves must have “jemmied” open the door to the cockpit, before unbolting the instruments.
The father-of-three believed it would have taken them another hour to remove the engine and propeller.
He added: “People need to be vigilant, because these people don’t give a damn.”
A police spokesman said the force was investigating the incident, which happened between 3pm on January 22 and 4pm on January 23.
There has been at least 13 other thefts reported to the British Microlight Aircraft Association since 2009.
Incidents reported last year include:
February 18, 2016 – Newnham, Hertfordshire.
May 8, 2016 – Hunsdon Airfield, Hertfordshire.
July 8, 2016 – Boughton south, near Downham Market.
August 15, 2016 – Holmbeck Farm Airfield, Leighton Buzzard.
August 16, 2016 – twice from Holmbeck Farm Airfield, Leighton Buzzard.
September 30, 2016 – Fenland Airfield, Lincolnshire.
September 19 to 23, 2016 – Benwick Airfield, Cambridgeshire.
September 26 to 27, 2016 – Audley End Airfield, Essex.
September 29 to 30, 2016 – Fenland Airfield, Lincolnshire.
According to the organization’s chief executive, Geoff Weighell, the majority involved the theft of four-stroke Rotax engines. It is believed they are taken over to Europe.