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Seven Reasons Why Local Airfields are an Important Asset to the Community - By Ben Lovegrove

1. Airfields are important conduits for economic activity, attracting businesses, and generating jobs.

 

When it comes to receiving bids and new contracts for businesses in the region, having access to nearby airfield transportation links is a major benefit. If an airfield is close enough, domestic investors and those from abroad are far more likely to select a town or city with a local airfield as a place to invest.

Those directly involved with and employed at the airfield are not the only ones who benefit from its existence. Many ancillary services and business, from ground and building maintenance, taxi companies and hotels to suppliers of food, fuel, and flowers find new customers at an airfield.

Airfields are the training ground for all kinds of aviation jobs (https://benlovegrove.com/aviation-jobs/) including careers in air traffic control, engineering, customer services and specialist HR. Airfields are the starting point for ab initio student pilots who will one day fly passenger and cargo aircraft (often returning to the airfield for some ‘proper’ hands on flying!

2. Airfields can be a Wildlife Haven

Airfields often have wide-open areas on both sides of the runway and a secure boundary. Although clear visibility around runways and taxiways is essential, there is usually ample room for wild areas, meadows and wildflowers creating valuable habitats and sanctuaries for small animals

At airfields all over the UK, it’s not unusual, as we watch an aircraft departing, to hear the fading sound of its engine replaced by that of a skylark hovering nearby. 

In the 1980s, while learning to fly at Southampton Airport, I was on final approach, focusing on my Flight Instructor’s instructions, when the operator in the control tower informed us that deer were crossing the runway and we should terminate our landing and execute a go-around.

Airfield landlords and managers are aware of the environmental issues (https://www.gaac.org.uk/habitat/how-green-is-your-airfield/) and are willing to make positive changes in these border areas.

3. They offer opportunities for training and education in aviation-related disciplines and STEM subjects. 

Airfields often attract high-tech businesses and frequently include sites adjacent to them for light industrial units, educational institutions, and recreational facilities. Solent Airport (pictured from afar, left) is a great example of this. It has an industrial park to the east and recreational areas to the north. 

These integrated airfields provide additional places where people may learn, work, train, or play. In addition, the enormous open areas of the airfield itself may be used for gatherings such as community events, car boot sales, charity events, or historic celebrations. 

4. Airfields preserve the wide-open spaces

Airfields are often a ‘green lung’ close to an urban area creating a valued open space (such as Gloucestershire Airport, right).

Some airfields have closed and / or been redeveloped.  But as aviation is rapidly changing it is important to retain as many as possible – the land may become invaluable for drone activity,  future transportation, logistics, electric vehicle charging centres and many other uses.

Local authorities need to recognise this resource and encourage appropriate development on airfields to help secure their long term viability and airfield operators need to urge their councils to do this.

It is also the case that local communities may not all like having an airfield on their doorstep but then realise this is preferable to new housing or even some form of waste or storage use!  Redevelopment also leads to job losses and inevitably increases pressure on the roads and on local community services.

The sites that remain in the fragile network of airfields and airports need to be preserved. You may have no desire to fly as a passenger from your local airfield, but your child or grandchildren may one day embark on a career thanks to the first job or the inspiration that the airfield down the road provided.

5. Airfields are bases and staging posts for the emergency services…

Air ambulances, SAR (Search and Rescue) services, Police helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft all make use of regional airfields. During the critical early stages of an emergency during which life is at risk, every second counts, and the ability of all these aircraft to operate from an airfield closer to the scene of the incident can quite literally be a matter of life or death. 

During civil emergencies like floods or wildfires, local airfields provide convenient staging posts for the emergency services where supplies and personnel can congregate.  The airfield itself may become the centre of operations under such circumstances.

Many airfields are also a valuable resource for military training.

6. Airfields preserve the heritage of a locality and encourage tourism…

Each airfield within the UK’s network has a unique history. Its existence maintains the heritage of the area and is living proof of its military or civil use during the past one hundred years or more. Heritage preserved in this way, in an active and vibrant airfield, is vastly more educational than a plaque or artifacts in a museum. 

Such locations attract tourists and visitors from the UK and abroad, eager to learn about the area for a variety of reasons. They may have an ancestor or some other family connection, or they may simply be aviation enthusiasts keen to see the airfield and to experience it first-hand.

7. Smaller, regional airfields are the future.

The arrival of electrically powered aircraft will revolutionise regional airfields. Aircraft with all-electric motors already exist, as well as larger planes capable of transporting a dozen or more passengers between cities. It’s only a matter of time until these electrical planes (which are much quieter and cleaner) start flying in our skies.  The revolution we have seen on our roads in the last few years will soon be happening in the skies.  We have also observed that young people are far more excited about the high-tech modern aircraft that are now emerging.

The idea of urban air mobility (UAM) is a phrase that’s frequently used to describe the part of aviation that involves small, passenger-carrying aerial vehicles within and between cities. They’ll need bases to operate from, which means your local airport is the best option.

Reduced number of automobiles and coaches on the roads, going the long distances to and from major airports is one result. The Government wants the UK to lead the world in aviation. GA airfields are the foundation stones of the whole aviation sector.

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