Kent International Airport has been without radar following a lightning strike in May. Vital air traffic control equipment at the former RAF Battle of Britain base at Manston, was knocked out during a major thunderstorm and won’t be replaced until the end of the year. At the moment jumbo jet pilots are using their eyes to get onto Britain’s longest runway but neighbouring residents are worried. Bernard Clayson is a member of St Nicholas at Wade parish council and a member of the local airport consultative committee. He said:
“At the moment pilots are virtually sticking their heads out of the window to line themselves up on the runway. We’ve noticed that aircraft are coming in lower than usual. Large freight aircraft and 747s on training flights come into Manston. It’s all very well saying that it is safe to fly into the airport even though it has no radar but what happens when the mist rolls in and covers the airfield in fog?”
Canterbury City Council Liberal Democrat Leader Alex Perkins said members of his group had been approached by residents in Herne Bay directly under the flight path. He said:
“People are alarmed at the height of the planes as they come in. Some of them are very big and it doesn’t help their confidence to be told that air traffic control radar at Manston has been out of action since last May. We fear lack of radar may cause a serious accident.”
Their concern has been passed to the chief executive of Thanet Council who has asked for assurances that the airfield is operating safely. Traffic levels at the Kent airfield dropped when low-cost airline EUjet went into liquidation last May. Airport operator Infratil Airports Europe has been looking to attract replacement carriers to the Isle of Thanet airfield. A new service linking Manston with Virginia is due to start next year and some tourist flights already operate from the airfield. The airfield is often seen on television as large Russian-built cargo planes use Manston as a base for relief operations.
The operators are installing new radar to accommodate the increased traffic they are expecting at Manston but it has taken longer than expected to install. A spokesman for the British Airline Pilots Association said he hoped the new radar would be in service as quickly as possible but hat they view the situation at Manston with “concern”. The radar knocked out in May had already been giving cause for concern as it was at least 30 years old and due for replacement.
The Civil Aviation Authority said traffic levels into Manston meant aircraft could operate safely. Neil Richardson, spokesman for Infratil Airports Europe said the new system would give Manston state-of-the-art radar cover. He said:
“Rather than repair an ageing radar, which was severely damaged by a lightning strike in May this year, we decided to invest in a replacement system which is currently being installed and which we hope will be operational by the end of the year. Radar is used in air traffic control to assist the flow of aircraft in and out of an airport. In the absence of radar at Kent International the flow of aircraft is reduced to approximately one arrival and one departure every 10 minutes. Therefore, while the absence of radar places time constraints on an airport, given the low level of traffic currently using Kent International, this is not an issue. The measures currently in place have been approved by the Civil Aviation Authority and are not unusual for airfields of a similar size and capability to Kent International.”
KentNews 25th Sep 2006